By Niall Gartland
FERMANAGH footballer Kane Connor believes underdogs Enniskillen Gaels must avoid lumping the ball into their full-forward line if they’re to have any chance of overcoming Derrygonnelly in the upcoming Senior Championship final.
Naturally enough, Connor, who plays his club football for Belnaleck, is still disappointed that his own team lost to Enniskillen Gaels in the semi-final a clash a fortnight ago.
It wasn’t a five star performance from this up-and-coming Gaels team by any means, but Connor is objective enough to know that still they have the ability to pose questions of Derrygonnelly, who are going for a remarkable sixth title in seven years, later this year.
“It’s not that they were brilliant against us, I think we were masters of our own downfall, but they have serious players who can hurt you if they all show up on the day.
“They’re a counter-attacking team and they’re full of running. They have the young players who can get up and down the pitch, who can break lines.
“They break at serious pace, they have boys like Johnny Cassidy coming from deep, and you’ve players inside like Conor Love who will hurt you.”
It’s easier said that done, but he also feels it’ll be important to negate Derrygonnelly’s most influential players, who have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt at this stage.
“I think they get their match-up rights on the day you never know. Derrygonnelly have the three Jones brothers, Conall, Ryan and Garvan. Any games I’ve watched of Derrygonnelly, they’ve been super, especially Garvan. A lot of the play goes through them, so I feel if the Gaels get their match-ups right, and nullify them as much as they can, then they might have a shout.
“Like ourselves they’re a very youthful team, though they have some experienced players as well. Not many people will give them a chance but it’s a final and you never know what might happen.”
He also says that they’re strong in the middle third.
“They’ve Richie O’Callaghan in there, he breaks up a lot of play. Brandon Horan gets stuck in, and Eoin Beacom was very good against us.
“For a young side they have big strong lads as well. It’s going to be a battle in the middle third, but Derrygonnelly might have the edge there with Stephen McGullion and Ryan Jones and boys like that.”
On the flipside, he thinks their defence may be an area of relative weakness, even though they get plenty of bodies behind the ball.
“I would question their defence, they do get numbers back but I think they can be got at. We lost two of our forwards, Glen Treacy and Garvan Quigley, in the first-half and that was a big loss to us. But until then we looked very good against them.”
Derrygonnelly ran out easy victors when they met Enniskillen in the league final in September. They’ve shown their mettle in the championship, overcoming both Ederney and Kinawley after replays, and will be keen to make up for the disappointment of losing last year’s decider.
“It’s a final, you don’t know how it’ll go, but I’m still tipping Derrygonnelly. They played each other in the league final and to be honest it was a glorified friendly. Derrygonnelly were in complete control of that game. I don’t know if it was nerves with the Gaels, but they didn’t perform at all.”
Connor doesn’t, however, believe Derrygonnelly are as strong as they were three or four years ago, when they seemed to be miles ahead of the chasing pack in Fermanagh.
“I don’t think they were the team they were three or four years ago. I don’t think they have the same sharpness or ruthlessness, but you have to give credit to other teams for improving.
“Derrygonnelly have set the benchmark by winning five in a row. Everyone’s out to get them. They’ve had a couple of slips, losing a few league games. We ran them very close in the league, but if they do click on the day, if they get ahead of Enniskillen, they’ll bury them.”
He also says that they aren’t a mirror image of the Gaels in terms of how the two teams set up.
“They play more man-on-man. They’re not a defensive or all-out attacking team. They’ve a real good balance. Watching them, they’ve boys who take on board what they’ve been asked to do by the management and do it to the letter of the law. They know who to get on the ball, they drive out of defence hard and there’s always a man there to support them. I was at both their championship games, and as tight as they were, I always thought these boys would come through, that they’d have the doggedness to do it. I think they should’ve beaten Kinawley ten times over, they had six or seven chances to win it the first day out and they’ll be disappointed they didn’t convert any of them. When it goes down to the wire I still never thought they’d lose, they have that experience.”
Connor believes the Gaels must avoid kicking the ball directly into their full-forward line, but he’s not sure they’ll be able to get over the line no matter what way they play.
“Declan Cassidy is still dictating a lot of their play between the two 45s, he’s sweeping up a lot of ball. The Gaels can’t kick the ball down their throats, they have to run the ball to have any chance.”
“If the Gaels they play balls into the full forward line, Derrygonnelly’s Mickey Jones and Eamon McHugh will make hay, they have good man markers.
“Even if they do run the ball, I think Derrygonnelly possibly have the tools to deal with it. Johnny Cassidy and Paddy Rehill and Eoin Beacom will need to have big games for the Gaels in that respect. It’ll be a good enough tussle.”