By Niall Gartland
ENNISKLLEN Gaels endured a chastening experience in last year’s county final, but they assessed the situation, made the necessary changes, and will see Sunday’s decider Erne Gaels as a real opportunity to win their first senior championship title since 2016.
They were ground down by a hardened Derrygonnelly Harps team, but their manager Simon Bradley (who was part of the backroom team) realised that it wasn’t a lack of footballers that was the problem.
The Gaels have won all around them at underage level in recent years, but the missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle seemed to be a lack of structured strength and conditioning, and they’ve taken significant strides on that front this year, as Bradley explains.
“I was involved last year, John Reihill was manager, and it certainly stood out a mile that we weren’t on the same page as Derrygonnelly when it came to fitness.
“When I was offered the job, I thought I’d use this year as an opportunity to close the gap. The club has employed a strength and conditioning coach, Charlie Kane, and he’s looking after everyone from u-15 right through to senior level.
“It’s very much a long-term project, but we saw the short-term benefits right away because there’s always a bounce when players start engaging in that type training, and in fairness to the players they’ve really bought into it.”
Defeating Derrygonnelly in the semi-final a week ago was a good gauge of their progress, but Enniskillen have a winning tradition and are ever-so-slight favourites to get the better of Erne Gaels. Bradley knows the opposition inside out, particularly because he taught most of their players during a long teaching career at St Mary’s High School Brollagh. Asked what he’s made of their run to the final, he said:
“I’ve watched the video footage and been to three of their matches, but two of them were played in horrendous conditions so it was difficult to take anything from that.
“I’d know all the players anyway, I worked in the local secondary school near Belleek for 25 years. About 70 percent of that squad came through that school, and I managed a few of them at county minor and u-21 level, and I was involved with the Fermanagh senior team so I know a lot of them well.”
Off the back of significant underage progress, Enniskillen Gaels have rocketed back up the ranks in Fermanagh. They can take the next big step this weekend, and Bradley also thinks it could be a great game for the neutral.
“You can win all you want at minor level but stepping up to senior football is completely different. This is only our second year out of Intermediate football, and we’ve probably progressed quicker than we thought, but it’s a good, big squad and the players are very ambitious.
“The weather could be a big factor but both teams like to go out and play football. Both teams aren’t overly physical and both have quality forwards. It could be very good for the neutral, if not for me and Seamus [Erne Gaels manager Seamus Ryder] are very ambitious.”