From 1998 to 2003 Enniskillen Gaels were the kingpins of Fermanagh football, winning six SFC titles in a row and competing in, and narrowly losing, two Ulster finals. Gareth Cauldwell chats to Tom Brewster who was one of the key men in that side

GC: That period between 1998 and 2003 must have been a great time to be playing for the club?

TB: It was unreal and the further you get away from it the more you appreciate it. When you were in the middle of it you probably didn’t appreciate it for what it was. It was a great bunch of lads and a great manager in Seamus Doyle. It was just such a good time, getting to championship finals and winning championship finals and then playing massive games in the Ulster Club. It was definitely a time to look back fondly on.

GC: Is there maybe a hint of disappointment that you didn’t pick up an Ulster winners medal?

TB: A wee bit. As time separates it doesn’t become as painful but there was definitely an element there; the Cross game we didn’t take our chances when we should have put the game to bed and in the Errigal game you could probably say we didn’t play to our potential that day. I suppose both days we were beaten by damn good teams. You had the likes of Peter Canavan for Errigal, the Cross team won three All Ireland clubs. It was disappointing not to get across the line but you can’t get hung up on that. We put ourselves out there and we weren’t far away. It was a great time for the club and a great time growing up and having the craic over those summers.

GC: Let me take you back to the start and to 1998. Did you have any idea of what was to come?

TB: We actually lost our opening six league games that season. We lost our first league game in Belleek by 20 something points, Rory and Raymie (Gallagher) just destroyed us and it was demoralising in the changing room after it but we knew we had a decent side. We had the guts of about ten really talented players coming through in the likes of Cabo, Brads, Clucker, Niall Keenan, Chrissie Murphy and a host of others and they were quality footballers. Seamus Doyle knew it was the start of something. I think we beat Irvinestown to record our first win and from going from six defeats on the trot we won six or seven in a row and that spurred us forward for the championship.

GC: Tell us about that first championship success.

TB: Our first game was against Lisnaskea and we went in as real underdogs. They were the top team at the time, Mark Little was emerging, they had Shane and Barry King and Mark O’Donnell but we beat them after a replay. Clucker, who was 16 at the time, got up for an equalising point the first day, I even think it was with his left foot and we then beat them the second day. We then beat Teemore in the semi-final before going up against a well established Garrison team in the final where we were again big underdogs. The first day was a draw, it was a real dirty day and Devenish should have won it, they bullied us around the place but the next day was a nice summer day and Brads and Cabo showed their potential and knocked over points for fun. We won it comfortably in the end, for the majority of us it was our first championship and we took great confidence from it.

GC: It was then on to a meeting with Rostrevor in Ulster. Did this game show you that you could compete at this level?

TB: Yes, I think so. We knew going into the game that no Fermanagh side had won an Ulster Club game since 1982 and it was something we were targeting.

We might have only got across the line by a few points but I felt we totally outplayed them. Competing against and beating them gave an injection of belief to the team, that we could do something special and Seamus Doyle and Sam Corrigan who were in charge felt that there was something to build on.

GC: You lost to Bellaghy next day out but did that taste of Ulster give you a hunger for more?

TB: You weren’t taking Fermanagh for granted, Newtown were coming good and Teemore were steadily improving and you had decent games in Fermanagh but I think the focus for the next few years was getting into the Ulster Club and trying to win it.

GC: In 1999, you faced Burren away and it needed an injury time goal to force a draw before you came through the replay.

TB: I remember big Brew kicking a sideline that day which was one for the scrapbook! We were three points down and Mickey Farry latched on to a break ball around the middle in injury time and he just drove forward and put a great ball into Cabo who did the rest.

Clucker I know would hold his hand up that day, he got the run around from Shorty Treanor who was top notch but we got them back to Brewster Park and there were a few tight hits into Shorty early on to take the wind out of his sails and Clucker got one over on him that day. We played some great football and came out well on top in the end.

GC: It was another big performance then to beat Bellaghy in the semi-final.

TB: There was a bit of baggage from the year before and it was rough but we showed great discipline and we were deserving winners. Danny Quinn came in to us after the match and told us we were up there and not to fear Crossmaglen.

GC: The final that year is maybe one that got away. You had an extra man for the second half but missed chances and Cross snatched it with a superb late John McEntee point. How did you view it?

TB: We went into the final very much the underdog. We were a very young team but we threw everything at them.

I took a hit early on from one of the McEntees and got a dead-leg and was not much use the rest of the game. It was a heavy, miserable day and there was a lot of ifs and buts about it ultimately we just didn’t take our chances and they did. Jim McConville did a right bit of damage and John McEntee kicked a great point to win it. It was one that got away and they went on and won the All Ireland Club. Ifs, buts and maybes.

GC: In 2000, you lost to Crossmaglen in Crossmaglen by two points. Would it be fair to say they were the better team that day?

TB: We lost Coxy and Brads that day, Coxy was a leader in defence and Brads was clinical up front and they were two massive losses. Again, it was a brutal day and we never really looked like beating them. We had loads of the ball but didn’t really make inroads.

GC: And it was Cross again in 2001 and a memorable win in Brewster Park. How did this win rate?

TB: That was some day. We got them in the preliminary round and we had beaten Teemore well in the county final so we knew we were in good nick going into the game. It also helped that we got them on a nice dry day in Brewster Park.

The intensity of that game stood out for me, the hits were savage. Cross were maybe on the wain a bit but I remember playing them in a couple of challenge matches for Queens and they would always do everything that could to win. We were well ahead at one stage in the game but that never say die attitude they had made a real fight of it but fortunately we hung on.

It was some performance though from us. Ollie McShea and Judgey never stopped and all the boys up front were flying. Gerry McDermott got a goal and Chrissie Murphy also hit the crossbar. Everyone just produced that day and it was nice to get one over them with them having beaten us the previous two years. There was a real feeling after that game we could push on.

GC: There was only a week turnaround before you played Castleblayney who were coached by Dom Corrigan and they turned you over the next day out. What do you feel went wrong?

TB: Dom was in with Paddy O’Rourke and they were lying in ambush. All the plaudits went to us after that great win and rightly so but a week is a tight turnaround.

I think we started well and we held our own in the first half but we conceded a soft goal in the second half and after that we were always playing catch up. That was really tough to take.

GC: You bounced back from that and would you agree that you produced some of your best performances in Ulster in 2002?

TB: We had a cracking performance against St Pat’s in the county final and then it was St. Gall’s who were really starting to make a name for themselves with the McGourtys and a few others. They gave us a lesson in the first 20 minutes in Brewster Park and we got in at half time four down. We then had a nightmare start to the second half when they got a goal and it left us seven down but we clicked into gear after that, outscoring them 0-10 to 0-01, and played some brilliant football. We went on to win by point with Raymie Curran kicking the winner late on. Next we had Gowna and we went well ahead in that game and although they came back at us we saw it out to win.

GC: A second Ulster Final lay ahead against Peter Canavan’s Errigal Ciaran side but you didn’t really reach the heights you were capable of that day.

TB: That was a game that could have been called off because Clones was pretty much water logged but it went ahead and we were happy enough because they had Peter and the more difficult the conditions for him the better. In saying that Mickey Lilly always did a good job on him and did again that day. Because of the conditions though it was a real battle of attrition. Unlike the Cross game when we had chances, I think on that day we played within ourselves and didn’t really express ourselves. We had Coxy sent off but I don’t think that made much difference, just the same as the last Ulster final when Cross had Gavin Cumiskey sent off but it didn’t really affect the game much.We were chasing the game and Judgey got a great goal in the second half to give us hope. I think we were chasing a point late on to equalise and we hit the post but they broke away to grab a point in injury time. It was a bitter one to take. We thought we had built up that experience and we had got through two tight games against St Gall’s and Gowna. That defeat was the end of an era, Seamus Doyle had moved back home and he moved on and that was a big loss for the club and the team.

GC: 2003 saw you claim another county title but defeat followed to St Gall’s in Ulster.

TB: They were on the up and we were going the other way, we had a lot of miles on the legs and we didn’t get up to the level we needed to be. The year after Derrygonnelly beat us in the championship final and that ended it for us.

But look, we had six or seven summers when we had great craic and there was a great buzz about the club and when you meet any of the boys you have played with there is a great bond and chat usually goes back to those finals against Cross and Errigal, the ones that got away. Still we had a fair few good days and it is something to look back on with a smile on your face.

GC: There was another championship title in 2006 but the club slipped away in the years after this, dropping into Division Two and still competing in the Intermediate Championship. There is a good crop of young players coming through though so is the hope that the club will climb again to the top?

TB: There is 100 reasons why we slipped off it but in recent times the club have won an Ulster Minor Club title and there are lads there who have won MacRory and Hogan Cups as well. There is great talent there and there is also a lot more people getting involved with the youth and things like that will definitely move it on. We see Derrygonnelly dominating there at the minute and it is not by accident, they are a hugely committed club, they have the whole community tying in there and it is pure hard work by dedicated club people that has them up there. They are competing where we once where and it would be great to get back up to that level and compete against Derrygonnelly but we have to get out of the Intermediate Championship first.

GC: You are now heavily involved in the youth section of the club. How are you enjoying that?

TB: The kids are growing up here and I’m about Enniskillen working locally so that helps. There is a core of boys now that would have played football together and we are enjoying doing a bit of coaching and being about the club. It is a good thing to give a wee bit back.


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