Derrygonnelly determined to get back on the summit

By Shaun Casey

DERRYGONNELLY have been the dominant force in Fermanagh for the best part of the last decade, taking home the New York Cup six times in the last eight seasons. The drive for five was completed in 2019, but 2020 put a dent in their historic run.

The Harps, grouped with Roslea, Erne Gaels and Belnaleck, regained their throne in 2021 but were unable to back it up last year and the semi-final proved to be their stumbling block. They have put their best foot forward so far in 2023, however.

Despite heading into the championship without the ‘reigning holders’ label attached to their name, as they’d become accustomed to, Derrygonnelly very much still hold the ‘team to beat’ tag. Their league performances this season have only strengthened that argument.

Of their ten league outings, including the recent Division One final, Derrygonnelly successfully won nine, with the only blot on their record being a round nine one-point defeat to Belcoo.

Gary McKenna and Connor McGovern claimed the all-important majors in the 2-13 to 0-14 extra-time league final victory over Kinawley while captain Shane McGullion and the experienced Ryan Jones remain key men for Sean Flanagan’s side.

From one league champion to another, Derrygonnelly take on Division Two winners Roslea, who bounced right back up to the top tier at the first time of asking following last year’s relegation, in the opening round of the championship.

Roslea, backboned by the attacking quality of the Quigley brothers, Sean and Seamus, will pose questions of the Derrygonnelly defence. Like their opponents, Ciaran Murphy’s side have only tasted defeat once this season, albeit at a lower grade in the league.

Last year’s beaten finalists Erne Gaels ended Roslea’s run in the championship last season, and they begin their campaign on Sunday afternoon against Belnaleck and should have Fermanagh star Ultan Kelm back in the fold.

Kelm spent the summer in the States and had a very successful few weeks in the USA. He lined out for the Chicago Wolfe Tones GAA club as they were crowned North American National Championship winners.

He helped the Chicago based club, who ended a 17-year wait to win the tournament, to a 4-19 to 2-08 win over Young Irelanders GFC Philadelphia in the decider and he also kicked 1-6 in the Chicago Senior Football Championship final against Padraig Pearses.

Belnaleck put a decent league run together, just missing out on a final place with a three-point defeat to Kinawley, but with Nigel Seaney, who won a Tyrone SFC with Trillick, on board, they’ll not be short on confidence.

Current champions Enniskillen Gaels head into the championship with a target on their backs having ended a 16-year wait for a title last year and all eyes will be on their charge for two in a row.

They knocked Derrygonnelly off their perch in the semi-final last season with a narrow one-point victory, 1-15 to 2-11, before powering past Erne Gaels in the decider as they breezed to a comfortable ten-point win.

Simon Bradley has returned to the hotseat for another campaign and will be keen for his side to get off on the right foot when they travel to Ederney, 2020 winners, on Sunday evening.

Bradley’s side will be hoping for a case of déjà vu as last year’s fabulous run began with a first-round win over Ederney, who have experienced a tough couple of years following their championship triumph.

In the last two seasons, Ederney have ended up in a relegation playoff but have clung onto their senior status by the skin of their teeth. Their 2023 form has been good, however, as they won six of their last seven league games.

Manager Chris Kelly will look to the experience of former Fermanagh goalkeeper Chris Snow, the versatility of Paul Maguire and the attacking talents of Niall Maguire, Sean Cassidy and Conor Magee.

Making up the group are Kinawley and Devenish, who get the Fermanagh Championship underway with their encounter on Saturday evening, and Kinawley are a side with real championship ambitions.

Dominic Corrigan’s team will have been disappointed with how the league final panned out, but head into the business end of the season in fine fettle as they eye up their first ever championship title.

Devenish had a brilliant league campaign, although it ended in heartache as Roslea proved too strong in the Division Two final and Martin O’Brien’s charges will be eager to hold their own in the group stages.

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