"Everyone has bought in" - Derrygonnelly Harps putting respect on Fermanagh football 7 months ago

"Everyone has bought in" - Derrygonnelly Harps putting respect on Fermanagh football

"Everyone has bought into the club and gets heavily involved in the club."

For Conall Jones and Derrygonnelly Harps, it has been a case of getting to the shop window and having a good nosey inside without ever setting foot through the front door.

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On Sunday, that all changes. The Derrygonnelly boys are in the AIB Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final and they have that big shiny thing all picked out. They've been eyeing it up for years.

Having thrown their weight around in the Fermanagh championship for the past while, Derrygonnelly had six cracks at winning the Ulster title in the past seven years. They have reached the semi-finals on three occasions, including their clash with Kilcoo last year, but have been denied each time.

"It was important for us in the club to take the next step and thankfully this year we've done that and gotten into an Ulster Final," the Fermanagh inter-county forward says.

"We probably do have an older age profile," he adds, "but with that comes experience. We have been gaining experience over the years and I think it's important in this competition, experience is very important. If you look at teams that win their county championship for the first time they don't progress too far normally in Ulster."

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Conall Jones Conall Jones of Derrygonnelly Harps celebrates with the cup after the Fermanagh County Senior Club Football Championship Final in 2019. (Photo by Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile)

A community and a wider parish brought together

Sunday's clash with Down side Kilcoo, their conquerors in 2019's semi, will be the first time a Fermanagh side contest the Ulster Final in 20 years.

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Jones describes Derrygonnelly as a 'small village, big parish and a very good community'. "Everyone has bought into the club," he says, "and gets heavily involved in the club."

Over the past 10 to 15 years, he comments, a big investment was made in the club by those involved in it, and with the wider community buying, and pitching, in.

"The club has been very progressive. Not too long ago the club had new clubrooms built and they were built by the members who didn't charge the club. So they were able to get those new changing room facilities built so the club could move on without being in a lot of debt.

"I don't know if [that progression] leads directly to this crop of players as such, but I know, moving forward, that a lot of things are being put in place for the underage coming after us. So hopefully there's not a large gap between this spell of players and the success they have brought and to the next crop of success. The club is definitely putting things in place now at underage."

Flitting about Derrygonnelly in recent weeks, Jones says there is a serious buzz about the place.

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"People are going to games now that maybe haven't been in a couple of years so you get a real connection with everyone.

"There have been a few lads out putting up signs and all, a bit of craic, driving from Derrygonnelly into Enniskillen, you see them all nailed to the trees and it has definitely added to the buzz of the game.

"I think I might even have seen someone spray-paint a car in the club colours too. It'll be interesting to see where it gets parked up!"

Derrygonnelly Clann Eireann manager Tommy Coleman speaks to the winning Derrygonnelly Harps team after the AIB Ulster GAA Football Club Senior Championship Semi-Final. (Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile)

'Maybe I didn't realise the consequences'

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This is the second senior Ulster final for Conall Jones. Back in 2018, he played with Fermanagh against Donegal after the Maguire County had beaten Armagh and Monaghan on the way.

Two first half goals from Donegal put some distance on the scoreboard and, battle as they did, Fermanagh could not come back.

"It's similar in some ways," Jones reflects, "but I suppose very different when it's your local club. The build-up to that game was serious as well in and around the county.

"Playing with the club, it's more of a community thing. It's all the guys you grew up with and played football throughout the year. All your neighbours and all, everyone's so engaged in it and excited, boys that haven't been at games in five, six, seven years, and they've all got their tickets for the weekend. The whole community is all so excited for it."

Harps faced Dromore in the Ulster club quarter final and needed extra time to see off the Tyrone champions. Jones was the man that stepped up to land the late equaliser than saw the game into an extra time decider.

"In terms of pressure, the game against Trillick a few years ago, it was a similar situation, but it wasn’t as hard a kick," he reflects. "With the difficulty of the kick, that was probably the biggest kick I’ve ever done."

"What was going through my head was, 'I wonder will Ryan [Jones] actually give me the ball here? He had it in his hands'.

"Garvan [Jones], who'd be left-footer free-taker, he was off the pitch. So I don't think there was a whole pile of thought process went into it. I just backed myself and maybe didn't realise the consequences.

"When you look back on it now, you kind of realise, how vital it was that we wouldn't be in the position we're in if it didn't go over. But at the time you're that engrossed in the game, that you maybe don't process all those thoughts, you're just thinking of that single kick."

In the semi-final, against Clann Eireann, it was Derrygonnelly building the cushion after a first-half goal glut. A red card before half-time softened their cough, though, and all hands were needed at the tiller to reach the final.

Heading into the final, Jones say Harps are confident in their own ability and know what they can bring to the table.

"It’s about not changing what has gone well for us before in the championship. You are going to have to try and adjust for Kilcoo, the pace and fitness they have."

The Ulster Final takes place at 3:45pm in Athletic Grounds in Armagh this Sunday, January 16. Austin Stacks of Kerry will also battle it out with St Finbarr’s of Cork in the Munster Final on Sunday, at Semple Stadium.

Both games will be broadcast live by TG4, with live coverage for the Munster final starting at 1:30pm, while the Ulster final coverage will get underway from 3:30pm.

Conall Jones Derrygonnelly footballer Conall Jones ahead of the AIB Ulster GAA Football Senior Club Championship Final. This year’s AIB Club Championships celebrate #TheToughest players in Gaelic Games - those who keep going and persevere no matter what. (Photo by Sam Barnes/Sportsfile)