Derrygonnelly are back on the Ulster trail for a third consecutive Autumn.
The only difference this year is that the Harps aren’t starting their campaign against favourites for Ulster and All-Ireland honours.
2015 and 2016 saw Archie Greene’s men drawn away against Slaughtneil. The fact that the Derry champions were playing up to St Patrick’s Day in two of the past three years gives an idea of the sort of mountain that was to scale.
Nevertheless, despite losing heavily in 2015, Derrygonnelly produced an impressive performance in 2016, 0-12 to 0-7 the scoreline in favour of the hosts.
If the school of hard knocks is the best education, then Derrygonnelly should be well prepared for this Ulster Club tilt. Classy Harps half back Garvan McGinley agrees with that analysis.
“I’d like to think we’re a wee bit wiser. I think even after the first year we learned a lot. The first year was a harsh experience, and obviously we didn’t get a win last year, but we learned a lot.
“They were two tough trips up to Derry. It’s good to get a home game and we are definitely going into it with a bit of confidence.”
To the outside observer it might have looked like Derrygonnelly coasted their way to a third Fermanagh title. However McGinley insists the Harps were thoroughly tested on their way to the three in a row and believes their county campaign will serve them in good stead as the take on Ulster.
“You couldn’t say it was handy. Meeting Belleek and Roslea we met as tough a teams as were out there to meet.
At times against Roslea we felt comfortable, but when it came down to it we were a kick of a ball of going out altogether. That was a bit of a wake up call for the second day.
“Obviously the final wasn’t a great game. After the first ten or 15 minutes I felt we controlled things, but you would never say it was easy.
“Our Ulster experience definitely stood to us through Fermanagh. In different situations we never really panicked. We’ve come on a lot in this past two or three years. I think we’re a bit wiser to give Ulster a crack. We’re in good shape and confident and going into it looking for the win.”
McGinley’s quiet confidence is based on first hand evidence, having made the trip to the Athletic Grounds to take in Armagh Harps title winning clash with the reigning Orchard champions, Maghery.
“It was a good game. It looked like Maghery were in the first half, but then Armagh Harps banged in two goals and they looked very lively. They have a few danger men who will need to be watched.
“Charlie Vernon was very good and Ryan McShane was very lively around wing half forward. Their keeper was excellent with his kick outs, as good as I’ve seen. He found his man every time and that will definitely something we’ll have to watch.
“We won’t be massively afraid of them though. Obviously we’ll respect them, but I don’t think we have anything to fear.
As well as having the benefit of giving the opposition the once over, Derrygonnelly will, for once, enjoy home advantage.
“It’s a big thing to get a home draw. Going away to Derry this past couple of years, there’s not many clubs in the country would have had as tough a draw. So it’s good to get that home draw.
“It’s a Saturday night and that adds to the atmosphere. We’ve had a right few games in Brewster Park under lights and we’re really looking forward to the whole occasion.
“The timing should attract a fair few neutrals too. The Ulster club is a great competition and I think there’s more of an interest in it. I’d imagine there’ll be a lot of neutrals going along to take a look and hopefully they get behind us on the night and help us get the win.”
Ulster Club SFC quarter-final
v Armagh Harps
Saturday, Brewster Park, 7pm
Ref: Dan Mullan (Derry)