Ernesiders determined to push on and build on recent progress

THE numbers in Fermanagh may be small compared to most counties, but their thinking is big – and innovative too.

Shaun Doherty, the county’s current football co-ordinator, said that while having just 23 clubs does create hurdles, the Erne county are no longer prepared to accept the ‘plucky Fermanagh’ tag when they come up against teams with bigger playing pools to call from.

The Kinawley man said that the county board and coaching staff, backed by great support from Club Eirne, are determined to bring a professionalism to Fermanagh that ensures that they can be competitive at as many levels as possible.

If there is something that they feel can improve the county’s fortunes, ‘we don’t have the numbers’ is no longer being accepted as an excuse.

I’m there three years there last November,” said Doherty. “I was eight years working with Cavan and then an opportunity arrived here.

I suppose it was a new role, we would have been one of the first counties to have that Football Coordinator position.

I was always looking for a way back into my own county and luckily enough the county board and Club Eirne had the vision to go and take a step before other counties did.

You can get bogged down on numbers but Fermanagh, to their credit, are not prepared to dwell on it.

With the likes of ‘Jet’ (Ger) Treacy, Sean Burns, good people within Club Eirne, and then the good people within the county board, they are trying to be innovative, they are trying to look at ways to maximise their potential.

Those appointments of Eoin Bradley from Tyrone (head of athletic Development) and myself three years ago, that showed massive vision.

They were one of the first counties to have a centre of excellence too with Lissan.”

Doherty freely admits that Lissan’s star quality has dwindled as time has passed, and he believes that its redevelopment is crucial to furthering the county’s hopes.

Last December, Fermanagh chairperson Greg Kelly announced that Croke Park would help fund a redevelopment project that included the resurfacing of both pitches, the building of new dressing rooms and the upgrading of floodlighting.

For Doherty, a redeveloped Lissan would be a major boon for the entire county.

I’d love to have a facility where all our county teams could train,” he said. “We did have it, but 20 years later you do have to upgrade it a bit.

My vision, and hopefully it passes on to the county board when they look at it, is that everyone works together and there is an overlap where the ladies are training the same night as the men. There are mixtures of young teams and older teams and everyone is there together.

To be fair Lissan is available to all county teams right now so you’d like to see that continue.”

Doherty is confident that the work in the county in recent years is already starting to pay off. Some notable results and higher levels of participation at underage club and county, as well as in the schools, provides good evidence.

Take the u-17 age-group at club level, we have probably about 350 to 400 footballers. That’s 17, 16, 15, 14-year-olds.

You’re competitive at the academy, competitive at minor level, you’re starting to win matches at u-20 level.

We have put a concerted effort into the schools. We always have but especially over the last three years with the work of the coaching staff and the teachers in the schools.

We’d constantly be in schools, working with teams two or three times a week.

For St Michael’s to go and win an All-Ireland maybe a year and a half into that was massive. It was a good sign.

A lot of talent is harnessed in St Michael’s, Dominic Corrigan, Mark Henry the Principal, Brendy Rasdale and the other coaches. St Aidan’s too, the secondary school local to me, have good drivers in there like Pat McTaggart, they’re all pushing it.

You see so many young lads buying into it. There never used to be trials for the academies, there were 20 or 30 lads that wanted to come out but now you’re getting maybe 50, 60, 70 percent of those age-groups wanting to. It’s huge.

When myself and Eoin came in there were also new coaches, Fergal Shannon from Derrylin, Jonny Garrity who is over the county ladies, Keith Reilly was there.

Maybe all that brought a burst of energy for clubs and we did hone in on that, we tried to reenergize clubs and schools.

You can get into that fixed mindset of ‘this is us, we’re never going to do it’ but in fairness I have noticed over the last three years that with a bit of enthusiasm and a bit of encouragement, there is a serious growth mindset amongst our young players.

They won’t accept that they can only be plucky. That’s not how they think anymore.”

Of course for Fermanagh fans, the main ambition remains a first-ever Anglo Celt success.

Doherty played a key role in their closest shave yet as he kicked the equalizing score in the 2008 final with Armagh before the Orchard county won the replay.

He sees no reason why the county cannot eventually get over the line.

I think that’s the great thing about sport, every year is a new year and everyone is in with a chance,” he said.

If we sat back on our heels and just accepted that we are never going to get it, well then what’s the point?

If you don’t challenge yourself then you’re not changing yourself for the better and there are enough quality footballers there to make it happen.”

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