SPORTS REVIEW OF THE YEAR
Published: 28 Dec 2012 12:100 comments
London called and Gavin did not disappoint
This summer saw a spectacular Olympic Games in London and there was to be a Fermanagh man among the competing athletes after triathlete Gavin Noble secured qualification for the event.
Noble had clinched a couple of second place finishes in the ITU Amakusa triathlon in Japan and the ITU Weihai triathlon in China but a knee injury was to see the Ireland international sidelined for the majority of the season.
He did though secure qualification for the London Games and was determined not to allow his injury to spoil his participation in the event.
Indeed, Noble was to produce a superb performance on the day. A great swim section saw the Enniskillen man exit the water in 15th spot among the 55 competitors.
And he had an excellent bike ride which saw Gavin hit the front of the race for a period in front of tens of thousands of people who had come out to watch the event.
When the 43 kilometre bike ride came to an end, Gvain was positioned in 11th place and although he fell back slightly in a gruelling run section, the Fermanagh man came home in a brilliant 23rd place finish.
Noble's achievement - he was the first Irish athlete to compete in the triathlon at the Olympic Games - was recognised in the latter stages of the year when he was named Vodafone Athlete of the Year, voted for by members of Triathlon Ireland.
2012 was a relatively quiet year on the local athletics scene, the national success at schools and age group level of the 2007-1010 period having receded, although a few of the young stars of that period have begun to make their mark at senior level during the year just gone, foremost amongst them being Mark Hoy who won the Ulster novice cross-country and made impressive improvements on the track over 800m, 1500m and event at the longer 3km indoors at the Irish senior championships, and a national U23 medal must be a real possibliity in 2013. Ciaran Dolan also got back into shape in the summer of 2012 and finally broke the seven metre barrier, ending the year as Ireland's number two ranked senior jumper at just 19, and he will be aiming for 7.30m plus in the season ahead.
Other local athletes to excel in 2012 included James Speight and newcomer, the fast improving Conan McCaughey, who pushed Hoy all the way in the Enniskillen Spooktacular 5km, and on the ladies side Helen Stockdale, Denise Toner and Patrica O'Hagan all three of whom impressed on the roads and over the country. Interestingly all of the above athletes with the exception of McCaughey ran in the colours of clubs outside Fermanagh and while in the case of the ladies most of them reside outside Fermanagh or are running for their nearest geographical club. It would be interesting to see how Enniskillen Running Club's men's team in particular would do, with the addition of those who currently run outside Fermanagh, having finished a very impressive second to a Fermanagh powered Finn Valley at that Ulster novice championship, a first Fermanagh adult club provincial medal for many a long year.
Edel Monaghan also marked herself as one to watch in 2013 following a great 2012.
One remarkable feature of 2012 was the continued re-emergence of the local road running scene with nearly every village and town now having a 10k or 5k or 5miler just like the 1980's again. Whether these races will soon see five or six local athletes running sub 33min for 10kms and sub 16mins for five miles, as was the case a quarter of a century ago, remains to be seen, but here hoping that quantity may soon be matched by quality, after all there are a host of young men who excelled on the schools cross-country scene a few years ago who could, if they returned to the sport, soon run those sort of times regularly.
Among the juniors there was tenth Ulster schools cross-country title in six years for St Michael's College but no second Irish title, while the likes of Domnhall Lynam and Edel Monaghan over the country and Conal Mahon and Jordan Hylton on the track showed promise for the future.
Sarah Cousins ranks number one in Ulster
It was a great year on the courts of Fermanagh and further afield for young Enniskillen tennis player Sarah Cousins. Over the course of the season Sarah was to lift four singles titles and she finished up the season as the number one rated Ulster girl in the U14 age group.
Among Sarah's successes in 2012 was the prestigious Dunedin Championships which were played in Lurgan while she went on to claim the Fermanagh Junior Open U14 title as well as the West of Ulster u14 title while she was runner up in the U18 event at the West of Ulster.
And victory in all her games at the Ulster Provincial Matchplay was to cement Sarah's spot as the top U14 Girl in Ulster.
Another young Enniskillen player to make their mark was Jared Monaghan. Jared, along with Sarah, was to represent Ulster at the Inter Provincials while he won three singles titles during the season including the Junior Championships in Castlebar and the West of Ulster Championships.
Irvinestown's Kyran Maguire was another who impressed during 2012 with some super performances as he rose to third in Ulster.
There were to be victories for Kyran in the West of Ireland Championships, where he also took the doubles crown with fellow Irvinestown player Conan Whitely, as well as the Tyrone Championships.
Among the other juniors to enjoy a good 2012 were Eimear Smyth and Ronan McKeever, both of whom won their respective titles at the Fermanagh Junior Open.
Indeed, for both Enniskillen and Irvinestown clubs it was a good year. Irvinestown's John Maguire continues to shine, winning the Over 45 singles title at the Grasscourt Championships in Ballycastle while he also won two doubles titles at the Ulster Vets Championships. Maguire also partnered Enniskillen's Matthew McGann to doubles success at the Fermanagh Veterans Championships while he was to represent Ulster for a fifth year in a row at the Inter Provincial Championships which were played in Galway.
McGann too tasted further success in 2012 with the Fermanagh Veterans Championships seeing him land a treble of titles as he not only partnered Maguire to victory in the mens doubles but also won the singles and then the mixed doubles with Sanja Hateboer.
The Enniskillen man also made the West of Ulster Mens A final but he was pipped by Gareth McGreevy.
There was also a return to the court for Andrea Irvine during 2012 and she was a treble winner at the Fermanagh Veterans Championships in the 'C' grade.
With both club's holding their successful open championships at both Junior and senior level as well as Irvinestown hosting the Fermanagh Veterans Championships it has been yet another fine 12 months for tennis on Fermanagh.
The greatest year in Clogher's history
2012 was the greatest year in Clogher Valley's history. The team claimed the Qualifying one league title, going through the league campaign unbeaten. They also added another Towns' Cup to their trophy cabinet, as they established themselves as the best Junior team in Ulster rugby.
The race for the league title was a two horse race with Cooke pushing Clogher Valley all the way, but their 17 wins and one draw from their 18 fixtures saw them finish three points clear. They sealed their historic triumph with a thumping 59-5 victory over Limavady, running in nine tries in the process.
In the Towns' Cup they beat local rivals Omagh 17-13 in the semi-final to set a Ravenhill date with Ballymena IIs, who had defeated Enniskillen in the second semi. In a hard fought final, Clogher Valley's defence proved too strong for Ballymena. Despite the County Antrim side edging both possession and territory they could not break through the Valley rearguard and two penalties from Aaron Best and a try from David Dunlop sealed an 11-0 victory and ensured they retained the trophy.
The league win meant they were Ulster's representatives in the All Ireland League Qualifiers. After a heavy defeat to Skerries in their opening fixture they defeated Monivea by a point to keep their hopes of promotion alive, but defeat by Richmond in the final round robin match ended their challenge.
Already this season Clogher Valley are on the brink of adding more silverware. Having defeated Enniskillen in the semi-final of the Junior Cup they will face Ballynahinch IIs in the final on December 28 as they bid to win the competition for the first time.
They are also in the semi-final of the All-Ireland Junior Cup and another historic year potentially beckons.
Enniskillen RFC regrouped after a disappointing end to the 2011/2012 season where they failed to gain promotion, and have started the new season brightly.
During the summer they appointed new coach Alisdair McKee, and recruited Donagh O'Callaghan from Donegal RFC and the welcomed the return of talented New Zealander Robbie Murray.
Despite injuries to David Taylor, Ryan Cathcart and Chris McVitty they made a 10 game unbeaten start to the season until Clogher Valley knocked them out in the semi final of the Junior Cup, which was followed by their first league defeat.
Enniskillen 2nd's are currently sitting mid table and are continuing to help develop the young talent coming through the ranks of Enniskillen while Enniskillen 3rd xv are having a great season and are currently sitting second in the league behind local rivals Ballyshannon.
In the Schools Cup Portora made a disappointing first round exit to Dalriada. They looked to have safely negotiated the first round home tie, but lost the lead in the final seconds of the match and went out 18-16 after the replay.
They went on to defeat Antrim Grammar on their way to the semi-final of the Schools Plate, but lost 15-3 to Omagh Academy.
Chris Farrell made an impact on the world stage in 2012 when he helped Ireland to fifth place at the World Under 20 Championships in South Africa.
The centre helped his side upset the odds against the tournament hosts in their opening group game and he scored a try in their victory over Italy, but defeat to England ended their chances of reaching the semi-finals. In the 5th to 8th place play-offs they gained revenge over England before beating France to secure fifth.
Championships wins for Clarke and Jennings
Garry Jennings and Marshall Clarke both had championship winning seasons and Matthew Cathcart began to make a name for himself in the British Championship in 2012, but for Alastair Fisher the season was one best forgotten, as misfortune and mechanical failures ended his dreams of a world title. Jennings was one of Ireland's outstanding drivers throughout the season. He started his campaign targeting the Irish Forestry Championship and after victory on the opening round in Donegal he dominated the series, winning the Moonlight Rally in Waterford, the Fivemiletown Spring Rally and Michelstown Forestry Rally. On the tarmac he was almost as successful, and came within a whisker of taking the prestigious Irish Tarmac Championship title. He started the series bidding for Group N honours and after class success in Galway, Killarney and the Circuit of Ireland he saw the chance to go for the outright title. He switched to a WRC Subaru for the Donegal International and became the first Fermanagh driver for 13 years to win a round of the Tarmac Championship. He was once again behind the wheel of a WRC Subaru for the Ulster Rally, but after losing out to rival Darren Gass he chose not to compete on the final round of the series, conserving his budget for a sustained attack on the title in 2013. He still had time to complete a hatrick of Donegal wins in the season however, winning the Donegal Harvest Rally for the third time in succession.
Marshall Clarke celebrated one of the biggest achievements of his rallying career when he won the British Rally Championship alongside Keith Cronin. The Enniskillen co-driver joined the Cork based driver from the second round of the championship and claimed points for a second placed finish on the Bulldog Rally before going one better on the following event, winning the Pirelli Rally. The pair followed that up with another success on the Jim Clarke Rally, and wrapped up the British title with a points scoring finish on the final round.
Matthew Cathcart went to the British Rally Championship in his Fiesta with the aim of gathering valuable experience, but finished fifth overall and second in the Fiesta Sporting Trophy after a very promising debut season. He was also selected for the Pirelli Star Driver award after taking eighth overall on the Jim Clark Rally, his first ever tarmac event.
In contrast Alastair Fisher went into the season with realistic hopes of winning the WRC Academy title after finishing third the previous year. His title bid got off to the perfect start with victory amid tricky conditions in Portugal, and although he rolled his car on the second round in Greece he recovered to finish second and retain his championship advantage. Round three in Finland marked a change in fortune for the Trillick driver, as he struggled to finish a rally without hitting problems and his championship challenge was soon at an end.
Closer to home Enniskillen Motor Club ran a thrilling BJT Commercials Lakeland Stages Rally, with Garry Jennings sliding off the road on the final stage to hand victory to Johnny Greer. In a tough rally that claimed many scalps Alastair Fisher, Shane McGirr and Jon Armstrong all failed to finish.
The club's McAleer Spar May Day Stages Rally attracted over 100 entries for a blast around St Angelo airfield, with victory going to Marc Donnelly ahead of Matthew Cathcart, with Shane McGirr claiming the two wheel drive honours.
The Campbell Contracts Tempo Time Trial was won by newcomer Kevin Eves, while Jim McKenna emerged victorious when the club held another event at the airfield in the Autumn.
A year to remember for Lee
Lee Johnston had a 2012 to remember. The former Maguiresbridge resident, who is now based in England, bagged numerous short circuit victories, claimed a podium finish at the North West 200 and recorded a lap in excess of 120 miles per hour on his first visit to the Manx TT.
Lee hailed his second place finish in the Superstock race on the Thursday evening of North West weekend as one of the best finishes of his career. Having qualified in eighth position he knew he had work to do to reach the head of the pack, but he was confident the damp and tricky conditions would play into his hands and was quickly up to fifth. An overshoot at a chicane relegated him a couple of positions but he overhauled William Dunlop, Donald, McGuinness and Farquar to finish in second spot behind race winner Seeley.
Although problems with his Ducati prevented him adding to his podium finish that weekend, he returned to action at the Manx TT. Despite never even having been to the TT week as either a competitor or spectator he managed to post an average lap speed in excess of 120 miles per hour around the treacherous and iconic mountain circuit.
The Fermanagh rider, now based in Hull, hasn't looked back this season since he teamed up with Millsport Racing. At the Ulster Grand Prix he recorded two wins before a thrilling third place in the Supersport class behind William Dunlop and Bruce Anstey. He also managed two wins and a third at the Adelaide Masters Championship round at Mondello. He also came within a tyre tread of winning the Donnington Park round of the National Superstock 1000 Championship, but after leading for virtually the entire race he was piped on the line by 0.001 seconds.
Lee has already signed with the team for another season in 2013, when he will ride a 600cc Honda Supersport machine in addition to the Ducati Panigale 1199. He is set to compete in international road races as well as the Metzeler National Superstock 1000 Championship.
For Josh Elliott the 2012 season was aimed at gaining experience as he took to the grid for the National Superstock 1000 Championship. The Ballinamallard rider had a frustrating start to the season but grabbed his first points with a 12th place finish at Donnington Park, just days after his 18th birthday. Snetterton provided him with his best championship finish of the season.
After qualifying in seventh spot a poor start saw him slide to 24th, but he recovered to finish eighth. His season ended in painful fashion with a heavy fall at Silverstone during qualifying, but he was able to walk away and is set to approach the new season in a positive frame of mind.
Premier League football comes to Fermanagh
There can be only one place to start when looking back over the last 12 months and that is at Ballinamallard United as the Ferney Park outfit became the first Fermanagh side to ply their trade at the highest level of football in Northern Ireland.
Indeed, it has been a remarkable 2012 for the Mallards who started the year as the leaders of the IFA Championship and with the team doing well the club decided to put everything in place off thepitch to allow them to make the step up to the Premiership if they succeeded on the pitch.
Everything was to fall into place as Ballinamallard were crowned Championship winners and with a Championship Licence granted by the IFA, meaning that Premiership football was on its way to Ferney Park.
Winning the Championship must be considered a huge achievement on its own, but the promotion to the Premiership, and the subsequent performances since the start of the season, has overshadowed that.
The Mallards began life in the top flight by fighting back from 2-0 down to snatch a draw with Dungannon Swifts at Ferney Park. And they have not looked back since.
The likes of Chris Curran, Mark Stafford and Stuart Hutchinson have shown that they are more than comfortable at this level with all three having produced eye catching displays as Whitey Anderson's side climbed to the top of the table at one stage. Glenavon, Portadown, Cliftonville and Linfield were all victims of the Mallards as they quickly took to life in the top division.
Whitey Anderson had made it clear at the start of the season that he wanted his side to finish as high up the table as possible but if they were to finish third from bottom and secure their Premiership status for next season then that would be a great success. As it stands, the Mallards already have surpassed the points tally of last season's bottom club and the aim will be to push on as high as they can on their debut season in the league.
The knock on effect that Ballinamallard's promotion to the Premiership had was that their Reserves had to pull out of the Fermanagh and Western to play in the IFA Reserve League, and they, as well as the U18s, who play in the IFA Youth League are both sitting towards the top of their tables as the club goes from strength to strength.
Back in the Fermanagh and Western, James McGrath's Lisbellaw United withstood a strong Enniskillen Town challenge to secure a third Mercer League title in a row. The duo battled it out throughout the season with Town actually winning the two head to heads between the sides. However, a poor start to the season was to go against Rory Judge's outfit as Lisbellaw relentlessly went about retaining their title.
And the 4-1 victory over Ballinamallard Reserves at Fisher Park sealed the deal for McGrath's team with Paul Baron (2), Paul McGrath and Ricky Carroll bagging the goals. And the same pair look set to be the main protagonists this season too with Town currently sitting three points clear but Lisbellaw having a game in hand. The season though was to end on a successful note for Judge's side as they claimed the Impartial Reporter sponsored Mulhern Cup with a 3-0 win over Tummery Athletic. The ever-green Gary Beckett netted twice and Ryan Hanna also got on the scoresheet as Town rounded off the season with silverware to show for their efforts.
Lisbellaw Reserves were the winners of the Reihill Cup following a 2-0 win in the final against Killen Reserves while Strathroy Harps were to win the Blue Riband competition for junior football in the country, the Coca-Cola Junior Cup.
Further afield, there was a return to form for goalkeeper Roy Carroll who has reignited his career with a move to Greece where he has been playing Champions League football with Olympiakos. And this has led to a return to international duty with Northern Ireland, Carroll having re-established himself as number one.
Joining him in the Northern Ireland squad recently has been fellow Fermanagh man Michael McGovern who has earned a call up to Michael O'Neill squad on the back of his performances for Scottish outfit Falkirk.
Andy Little has been among the goals for Rangers since the start of the season after he recovered from injury while Kyle Lafferty sealed a move to Swiss outfit Sion FC after leaving Rangers.
Good success on the field but Brian Óg's death hit hard
There was to be success on the field during 2012 for a number of Fermanagh teams with St. Michael's clinching the MacRory Cup, Lisbellaw winning the Ulster Club Hurling Intermediate Championship title and Fermanagh hurlers taking the NFL Division 3B crown but the death of county senior footballer and Lisnaskea Emmetts midfielder Brian Óg Maguire cast a dark shadow over Fermanagh GAA in autumn.
The year had started with Fermanagh, under the management of Tyrone great Peter Canavan, reaching the semi-final of the McKenna Cup before embarking on a league programme that would secure the main goal for the season, that of promotion out of Division Four.
However, there was to be no silverware as Canavan's side fell to Wicklow in the league final at Croke Park while the championship campaign was to end with defeat to Down in Ulster and then to Cavan in the All Ireland Qualifiers.
The Seamie Quigley saga overshadowed the build up to the encounter with Down, the Roslea man rumoured to have left the panel after a high scoring league campaign while there were further rumours of disciplinary problems. Quigley did make an appearance of the bench against Down but the early sending off of Daryl Keenan in the Brewster Park clash left Fermanagh facing a mountain to climb and although they battled hard, it was the Mournemen who progressed.
However, the derby clash with Cavan would have to be considered one that got away. By this stage Quigley had walked away but Fermanagh looked to be cruising to victory as they built up a strong advantage in the early stages of the second half. A three goal blitz from the Breffnimen though led to a collapse as Cavan progressed through to the next round.
Overall, Canavan will feel that there was progress made with promotion and the squad are already working hard with a number of new faces freshening up the squad as they get ready for a tough Division Three campaign.
The senior hurlers also achieved their first target as they came out on top in Division 3B, something that manager Seamus McCusker felt was crucial if they are to improve.
And then they went on to make it through to the Lory Meagher final at Croke Park but there was to be heart-break for the Erne hurlers as after a wonderful contest they narrowly lost out to Tyrone in extra time.
Lisbellaw hurlers though were to reach new heights as the year drew to a close. Having won the Fermanagh title with victory over Lisnaskea, the St. Patrick's side showed a steady improvement as they progressed through Ulster to set up a final meeting with Antrim champions Cloughmills in Pairc Esler Newry.
And a superb performance, full of quality and character, saw Lisbellaw claim the Ulster crown, only four years after winning the Ulster Junior title. Their season was to end with defeat to St. Gabriel's London in the All Ireland quarter-final but the year would be considered a huge success for Lisbellaw.
Earlier in the year St. Michael's were also on the road to glory. Dom Corrigan's side had lost the McCormack Cup final to Omagh CBS but they learnt their lessons from that defeat, dusted themselves down and avenged that loss by beating a highly rated Omagh side in the quarter-finals of the MacRory Cup.
This was followed up with victory over St. Patrick's Armagh in the semi-final and then a superb second half performance saw the Enniskillen school secure the coveted MacRory Cup for the first time in a decade.
Again, St. Michael's were forced to dig deep in the All Ireland semi-final against Kerry outfit PS Chorca Dhuibhne, which came only five days after the MacRory Cup success but again, with Eddie Courtney showing great composure from free kicks, St. Michael's booked their place in the final.
However, the Croke Park decider was to end in disappointment with defeat to St. Mary's Edenderry although this cannot mask a wonderful year for the school.
On the club scene it was a brilliant year for John McElroy and his Tempo side. The Maguires made a slow start to the season but by the time championship had arrived they were hitting top form. Tempo eased their way into the final where they would meet a Lisnaskea side who had overcome some tough tests to book their place in the final.
However, the final was played under a cloud following the death of Brian Óg Maguire.
The death in an industrial accident of the Lisnaskea and Fermanagh midfielder put football into perspective as the GAA community in Lisnaskea and throughout the county pulled together during a difficult time with Maguire missed sorely, not just on the pitch but to the community as a whole.
The game went ahead and it was Tempo who came out on top on an emotional night while the Maguires followed it up by completing a league and championship double although they were well beaten by St. Gall's in the Ulster Club.
Teemore Shamrocks claimed the Intermediate title but they too fell at the first hurdle in Ulster.
In Ladies football, Fermanagh maintained their Division Two status following a tough league campaign but they lost to Armagh in Ulster and then to Waterford in the All Ireland Intermediate Championship semi-final. And the Ladies are on the look out for a new manager after Darren Boyle stepped down from the post.
However, Newtownbutler were to win an Ulster title as they defeated Monaghan side Magheracloone in the decider although they lost in the All Ireland semi-final to Cahir.
Rowers compete on international stage
Yet again Fermanagh rowers competed at a high standard on the world stage with Holly Nixon and Leonora Kennedy among those who performed well on waters throughout the world.
Holly teamed up with Laura D'Urso, from City of Derry Boat Club, for her first U23 International regatta to compete at the Brandenburg International Regatta in Germany in May and the Enniskillen oarswoman returned home with a gold and bronze medal from the meeting, and more importantly, a place on the Ireland U23 team for the World Championships in Lithuania.
In July the same pair travelled to Lithuania for the World U23 Championships and there was to be an excellent performance by the Irish team as they won the 'B' final, finishing seventh overall.
And in October Holly, on her debut in the United States, where she is a student at the University of Virginia, was to enjoy success at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, the largest regatta in the world. Her University of Virginia were the top collegiate crew in the Women's Championships 8s, finishing third overall behind a US National team and a Cambridge Boat Club crew (USA) with those teams comprising of eight Olympians from eight different countries.
Leonora Kennedy was another to perform well in 2012. The former Portora rower claimed a podium finish at the Henley Women's Regatta on the Thames River in a Sport Imperial/Leander composite crew, the crew receiving their prize from five time Olympic gold medallist Sir Steve Redgrave.
It was then on to Lake Verese in Northern Italy for the European Rowing Championships and a superb display by Leonora and her GB Women's 8 team-mates saw them earn a wonderful bronze medal.
And there was to be further medals for the Enniskillen woman in October with two golds coming at the Diamond Jubilee Rowing Championships at the London Olympic venue, Eton Dorney. As part of a composite Imperial College/ Oxford Brookes / Reading University crew she won the Women's coxed 8s title, the crew storming to victory by eight seconds. And Leonora was also part of the winning open Women's coxless 4s team.
Also taking part at Eton Dorney was Rebecca Humphreys who managed to reach two finals while she also claimed golds at the Reading Regatta with London Rowing Club in the Elite Quadruple Scull and gold at the Metropolitan Regatta although illness and a busy scheduled hampered her at the British Rowing Championships where she finished in the Womens Lightweight Singles Sculls. Humphreys also had the honour of escorting the Olympic flame down the Thames for the 2012 Games.
At Junior level, Portora Boat Club continue to produce winning teams and quality performers.
At the Erne Head of the Rover both the Men's J18 quad and the Women's J18 crew won their respective sections amid a plethora of top class performances. And the success did not end there as the Mens Junior 18 four crew went on to take the Irish title in July at the Irish Championships in Cork which was the first boys' championship for the club since 1995. This was a massive win for the crew of Lloyd Seaman, Henry Millar, Joe Nelson, Gary Thornton and cox Natasja Doonan.
And Seaman and Millar followed it up by taking the gold medal in the Junior 18 pair in Cork before the duo went on to represent Ireland at the Coupe de la Jeunesse, coming home in fourth in the Junior Mens 4s. Katie Cromie also represented Ireland at the Junior World Championships in Bulgaria while at the Home Internationals, Gary Thornton was part of the victorious Ireland Men's Junior 4s who beat England, Scotland and Wales.