FERMANAGH hurling is set to receive a major shot in the arm this season with the foundation of two new adult teams – South Fermanagh Gaels and Erne Gaels, Belleek.
One of the budding competitors involved in the creation of South East Fermanagh Gaels, namely Lisnaskea hurler Paul Teague, expects the teams will play each other in a Junior Championship final later this year.
If that comes to pass, it would end a period of eight years without any competitive action at adult level in Fermanagh.
Lisbellaw presently stand alone as the only adult team in the county – but all that is about to change according to Teague, who played for Lisnaskea before their hurling club folded after the 2013 season.
“During the lockdown last year, there were discussions with a number of lads I played hurling with about setting up a new team, with the help of Ulster GAA Regional Hurling Development officer Emmett Conlon.
“We managed to get a team set up and it’s called South Fermanagh Gaels, taking in the area around Lisnaskea, Donagh, Derrylin and Roslea. We have a committee formed and Belter Tech will sponsor us, so we’re pretty much good to go.”
Hurling in Fermanagh is actually undergoing something of a revival at the moment. This year there will be an impressive eight teams fielding at u-13 level and five at u-15 level, so the foundations are certainly being put in place for future years.
The establishment of two new adult teams should really help with the promotion of the game at a wider level, however, but it hasn’t happened by accident.
Erne Gaels have put in the miles at underage level, fielding in tournaments in counties like Derry, Antrim, Leitrim and Sligo, and now they have a group of players at minor level ready to make the big step up to adult hurling.
Lisnaskea, likewise, have joined forces with Knocks Grattans at underage level, and the appetite now seems to be there to start up a senior team.
“Emmett Conlon has done a really good job in helping to develop hurling in Fermanagh, and now we’re looking to have two new adult senior teams. Erne Gaels have had a minor team for a while now so they’re looking to push things on, and we’ll probably compete against each other at junior level.
“We’re hoping to play together in a Fermanagh Junior Championship final this season, which would be the first adult hurling fixture in Fermanagh in eight years. The last time there was such a fixture was the 2013 final between Lisbellaw and Lisnaskea. I played in that one myself but unfortunately the game had to fold because of lack of numbers and appetite. The appetite seems to be back and that’s behind the formation of this South Fermanagh team.”
Teague also hopes that they’ll be able to field in an Ulster junior regional league, and the long-term ambition is that there will be enough adult teams in Fermanagh competing at a high enough level that they’ll be able to battle it out in bona fide leagues and championships.
“The Fermanagh County Board recently started at a hurling development plan, so they are intending on looking at hurling in the county and assessing how it’s progressing.
“Emmett’s doing great work as well, and hopefully the underage teams competing at u-15 and u-13 level will keep on going through to minor and senior level.
“We’re hoping for proper Fermanagh leagues, and we hope Gaelic teams row in behind us so we’ll have as many dual players as possible.
“We sent out a survey at the start of the year and had about 50 responses, and a few of the lads who responded play football, so we’d be confident we can accommodate them by training on a Monday night.”
On a personal level, Teague is also looking forward to representing his home area again as in the past he’s had to travel the one-hour drive to Ballyshannon to play his chosen code.
“I hurled with Lisnaskea since I was 17 the whole way to 2013 when the team folded. I had to go outside the county to hurl, heading to Aodh Ruadh in Ballyshannon. I hurled for them in the 2014 and 2015 era. I’ve moved to Enniskillen so I help them with underage coaching and bits of refereeing, but it’ll be nice to be back playing again.”