It was 26 years ago this week that Fermanagh landed the Ulster U21 Football title with a comprehensive 2-08 to 0-08 victory over Derry in Healy Park, Omagh.

Under the management of Jim Carty, Fermanagh came through a tough side of the draw as they secured narrow, hard fought wins over Donegal and Tyrone to book their place in the final and in the decider a devastating start to the game put them out of reach of the Oak Leaf side.

Carty puts a lot of the success down to the hard work that they had put in to get ready for the competition.

“We had trained hard in the winter time,” said Carty. “We had a big problem getting pitches to train in the winter and we used St. Michael’s and St Joseph’s when we could get them and we would have trained with car lights. There was a lot of hard work put in, that was important.”

First up for Fermanagh in the quarter final was a meeting with Donegal in Irvinestown and it was a game that Carty felt his side made hard work of before coming through on a 0-11 to 1-07 scoreline.

The game marked a return to action following injury of forward Raymond Gallagher who landed seven points as Fermanagh ran out victorious.

“It was a tight game but we should have won it handier, we had good chances but didn’t take them,” recalled Devenish man Carty.

Next up for the Ernemen was an encounter with the Red Hands for a place in the Ulster final.

In a well contested battle a Mark O’Donnell goal looked as if it would send Fermanagh to victory but Tyrone hit back to level matters up. However, six minutes into injury time Brian Maguire popped up with the winner as Fermanagh finished 1-08 to 0-10 victors.

“It was a good Tyrone side and they thought they would walk over us but we knew we had worked hard. We let them back into it when we should have had the game won but we hit a late winner,” he added.

It was then on to a meeting with Derry in the final in Omagh and Fermanagh made a lightning quick start to the game as they raced into a ten point advantage and they were to remain in control to the finish to seal the title.

Mark O’Donnell swooped for the opening goal after only 40 seconds and that was to set the tone for the remainder of the tie.

Lisnaskea attacker O’Donnell also played a role in the second goal which followed soon after from Brian Maguire and Fermanagh never looked back.

Derry did look to find a response but Fermanagh stood firm at the back with Paddy McGuinness and Tony Collins to the fore with Neil Cox doing a good job in restricting Derry forward Geoffrey McGonagle.

Captain John Hanna and partner Archie Greene were strong in the middle of the park while O’Donnell was aided by Gallagher and Shane King up front as Fermanagh sealed a six point win and a first Ulster title in 23 years.

“We wanted to hit the ground running and we got two quick goals and that set us up,” remembers Carty. “Mark O’Donnell scored one and had a hand in the other. O’Donnell was a nice footballer, so was John Hanna. Gallagher was a good player with a great left foot. They were all good players,” he added.

Carty’s sights were then set on the All Ireland semi-final but a long lay off between the Ulster final and the All Ireland semi-final proved difficult with Fermanagh facing a Mayo side who had the advantage of playing the semi-final a week after winning the Connacht crown.

“Winning Ulster was good but I would like to have won the All Ireland or got to the final anyway,” said Carty.

“Mayo had good players but we had too. We were too long away though, we had to wait from May to August for an All Ireland semi-final. We had five or six players who went to America in between and when they came they weren’t up to the standard,” he added.

Mayo finished up 1-15 to 2-10 winners on the day but a late Shane King goal had put a gloss on the scoreline for Fermanagh as the Westerners deservedly progressed to the final.