By Niall Gartland
ERNE Gaels have undergone a swift resurgence under their manager Seamus Ryder, and they’ll be quietly confident of completing a league and championship double when they face Enniskillen Gaels this weekend.
It’s been a rapid rise for the Belleek team – they won last year’s Intermediate title, won this year’s Division One final, and now they’re one game away from what would be their third ever senior crown (their previous triumphs came in 1979 and 1981).
Their manager Seamus Ryder comes across as a modest fella, but at the same time he was always confident they could leave a serious imprint on this season’s championship.
“When we took the job we just wanted to win the Intermediate Championship as soon as we could, and it’s definitely been a goal to get to the top of Fermanagh. We’ve a couple of players coming through from underage level, Ryan Lyons returned at the tail-end of last year, and at the start of the season we definitely thought we were capable of doing this.
“Derrygonnelly got to the Ulster final last season and I think it’s energised a lot of teams in Fermanagh, it was a bit of a wake-up call to ourselves, Kinawley and Enniskillen. We wanted to push on and try to get to that level and we’ve responded well to the challenge.”
A controversial last-ditch penalty proved the winning of the game in their semi-final clash against Kinawley, but the old saying goes that you make your own luck and their manager says they keep on going right until the final whistle. The main thing from their perspective was that they made it through to their first senior final since 2016 (Ryder himself played that day, scoring seven points, five from frees, in a defeat to Derrygonnelly).
“In the last 18 months since we took the job, we’ve been winning games in the last 10 or 15 minutes, it’s something we’ve done regularly. We went for broke and Dan McCann was brave and won the penalty. It reflects well on us but at the end of the day we want to win the championship – we’re not just happy being in the final, we want to bring the trophy home.”
On Sunday, eight of those who played in the ‘16 final will once again line out, while Brian Mullin, Martin Gilfedder, Dara Keown and Paul McCaffrey were involved as far back as their 2008 Intermediate Championship victory. Allied to talented younger players like Ultan Kelm raiding up the wings, it makes them a pretty potent outfit.
“There’s plenty of experienced players on the team who help out the younger lads with bits of advice, and even just the way they conduct themselves. There’s those previous finals, but even last year, we beat Devenish in the Intermediate final and that felt as important as any game we’ve played, so that should stand to us as well.”