Ten years ago this week Lisnaskea Emmetts landed the All Ireland Intermediate title at Croke Park. Stephen Carters talks to Gareth Cauldwell about an unforgettable journey for the team and the club

GC: Was there a belief at the start of that year that you could make an impact in the championship because when you look back there was a lot of quality in the squad in the likes of Johnny Woods, Niall McElroy, the Currans, the Littles, Pearse Collins, Daniel Kille, Brian Óg Maguire and yourself. Was the Intermediate Championship in Fermanagh one that you targeted from the outset?

SC: I remember in the clubrooms at one of the first players’ meetings that it was put down on paper that that was our goal at the very, very start. The league position was going to be a bonus but the thing that we wanted that year was the intermediate, that was the very first thing that was written. And that’s not being disrespectful to any of the other clubs but we knew that we had a very strong squad.

It was Peter Clarke’s first year in the job and he was able get everyone on board and buying into what he wanted, wasn’t he?

He did. That’s one of the things about Peter, it’s not that he is hard to say no to - but after the 10,000th time when you are sick of saying no, that’s when you give in to him! That’s the relentlessness of him, he got everybody on board. He wanted the best available squad out for Lisnaskea and that’s what he done, he got every man out playing.

The league went well for you as you made the league semi-finals having just been promoted the previous season. That must have helped with confidence going into the championship.

I remember we played Roslea down in Brewster Park in the semi-final, they had finished top and we finished fourth. Roslea were hammering us at half time but we came back in the second half and beat them and from that everything stepped up; our training stepped up, our preparation stepped up and I think our focus really changed and without it being said everybody felt that we were on to something.

It is fair to say that you cruised through Fermanagh to lift the Intermediate title.

We had Aghadrumsee in the first game and then we had Coa, and in fairness to them they gave us a bit of a scare, especially in the first half. I think they had Leon (Carters) sent off but up until that they were holding their own. In the final then we played Irvinestown and in truth we were never really looking over our shoulder in that game. We came through Fermanagh pretty much unscathed which was good and we got used to that winning feeling.

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Having come out of Fermanagh was there then a focus on giving Ulster a good rattle?

Anything past Fermanagh was never mentioned. I remember a couple of fellas from Newtown saying that we could give Ulster a rattle but we genuinely didn’t look past Fermanagh and anything after Fermanagh was going to be a bonus. However, the belief internally was building, as was the momentum you get from winning games.

We played Tullylish in Newry in the quarter final and we got by them and reset for the next day. We never lost focus or mentioned anything about Ulster, even at that stage. It was just a step by step process.

Next up it was Rasharkin and you came through that comfortably enough too. Different players were stepping up on each given day as well.

One of our donwfalls in years beforehand or even since was that we were always looking towards the likes of Boiler (Mark Little) or Cecil (Daniel Kille) to get scores or do something. There was a couple of runs by Kevin Curran against Rasharkin from corner back and those type of things. I think it was the Rasharkin game were everything really clicked and boys from then on stood up. This is where the ball really got rolling for us, we definitely laid down a marker that day.

The Doohamlet game in the Ulster final was probably your tightest championship game up to this point but again you showed enough quality to get over the line.

One of the things about that game was that it had to be rescheduled. The final was due to be on November 27 but there was a real bad frost that year and the pitch wasn’t playable. The focus though never wavered, I remember that because of the frost we couldn’t get a pitch in Fermanagh to train on and we had to use the indoor hall at St. Comhghall’s and even the intensity in those sessions – there was men having to be held back from each other. You could just see that everybody was ready for it.

When we eventually got to play Doohamlet it was nip and tuck and it was only late in the second half that we pulled away. There was never though a moment where we thought we would lose the game. There was always that belief and we just kept plugging away.

Impartial Reporter: The Lisnaskea players celebrate on their return to Lisnaskea after winning the All Ireland Intermediate Championship title.The Lisnaskea players celebrate on their return to Lisnaskea after winning the All Ireland Intermediate Championship title.

That was the Ulster title in the bag and you followed it up with a super performance in Navan against Kildare side Ballymore in the All Ireland semi-final.

We had been training a good bit in Dromore, again due to the weather, in the lead up to this game but I also remember there was a night that we went up to Lissan and there was no lights so we came back to ‘Skea and every man put the car lights on and we trained.

Peter Clarke always referenced Emmett steel and this was a bit of that – we weren’t going to let anything get in our way and we weren’t going to have any excuses.

James Kavanagh was their main man and he was just off the back of a really good year with Kildare but Ogie (Brian Óg Maguire) cleaned him that day. The off the ball stuff that he was doing, the small stuff that goes unseen in a lot of games, he was immense and he did it repeatedly throughout that year. Anybody who played with him, especially the Lisanskea boys, would say he was like the silent assassin. He wasn’t one for being vocal at training but he was a leader in his actions. To this day we still call him our captain and that’s just what he was, he was unreal.

I think Cecil got a lot of the scores that day but overall it was a real team performance to get us through to the final.

So, how did you find the build up to the final? I’m sure there was great excitement around the town.

We had meet and greet nights and the turnouts for them were unbelievable and it was great to see the kids in the club colours. It was the whole talk whenever you meet somebody on the street. You hear people on about the senior All Ireland and the buzz that it brings to a county but when you hone that in even further into a town it was unreal. Everybody was on cloud nine and it is only now when you look back that you really appreciate the feel good factor about the town.

What are your memories of the day of the final?

For the semi-final we stopped in a hotel in Meath and we went back to the same hotel for the final. Before we got back on the bus we went for a walk and that wee walk, that’s when it was really hitting home to us about what we were going to do. We then drove into Dublin and you could see cars driving by with the Lisnaskea flags and the supporters heading to the ground, it was unreal.

I remember just before we got off the bus, Clarke had a motivational video made and it was not something we were expecting. It only lasted for two or three minutes but it really put us in the zone for the game.

That was a good St. James (Galway) side that you came up against in the final.

They had Paul Conroy who is captain of Galway now, they had Johnny Devane who played centre back for Galway – they had good calibre and we knew we would be up against it but we also had good belief in our own ability.

It was a game that swung one way then the other. What were your memories of the game?

The game was to and fro and we went in at half time three points up. We just said at half time that we would keep plugging away, one point at a time and build a lead, but they clawed it back and went three points up.

We never panicked even at that stage although if you had looked over at the sideline and seen Peter running up and down the line you might have thought we were panicking but that was just him. On the pitch we just kept plugging away.

We were a point down late on and we got a free kick and I was standing right behind Cecil - he’ll not mind me saying that he stole a few yards in and I was just hoping that the officials hadn’t seen him move it.

There was some pressure on that kick as it was the last kick but in fairness, he hit it so sweet, it went over the black spot.

Extra time again went one way then the other with Lisnaskea going three ahead only to be pegged back. But then arrived Niall McElroy’s decisive goal.

That’s what gave us the daylight . Both teams were starting to tire and I think that really knocked the stuffing out of them. They had come back twice but that goal was a hammer blow. Niall took the goal really well as again there was a lot of pressure but he put the foot through it and it hit the back of the net. That spared us on and as I say it deflated St. James and we were able to see it out.

Impartial Reporter:

What were the emotions like at the final whistle?

We all met in the middle of the pitch but it was when we started to go over towards the crowd was when it really started to hit us. Then the changing room after that was mad, the euphoria in that room, that’s what it’s all about. You are there with the boys you grew up with and hang about with and it felt that there was that inseparable bond at the time. It was surreal. Clarke would always be the hyper one and Gerry Mc Elroy would always be the one to bring you down to reality but Gerry spoke in the changing room after the game and told us to hold on to this moment because in the blink of an eye it will be ten years down the line - and lo and behold we are ten years down the line and it has gone in a blink. They are great memories to have. I think what makes it more special is that in the year or so before that run there were men affected by death and losses within the club and then we had Ogie the year after that. When you see how fickle life can be and how drastically it can turn on its head; to be fit to look back and share those memories with the boys you grew up it is something nobody can take away from you.

I’m sure the hope was that you could kick on from that and you did reach the senior final in 2012. However, there was the tragic death of Brian Óg in the lead up to that game.

As great as it is looking back, by right that should only have been the start for that team. We would have had the belief that we could have rattled off a senior championship or two, that’s just the confidence we had within the squad.

Look, you never know what might have happened but Ogie’s death knocked the stuffing out of the fellas, it was very hard to take.

When you look back though on 2010/11 season I’m sure it is with great memories.

It’s just the best, that’s the only way you can describe it. The craic we had that year, yes, we were serious about the football but there was a great togetherness about the squad and we had some craic. The days and nights out were just unreal. You look back now, for the times that we are in, and it is only now that you appreciate things like meeting up in the pub on the Wednesday after we won it and the craic and enjoying life. You didn’t have a care in the world.