The county’s clubs might not have carried home provincial silverware in 2014, but there is one team that will be keeping the Fermanagh flag flying this coming All-Ireland club semi-finals weekend.
That’s Liverpool side John Mitchel’s. They are managed by Enniskillen native Barry Morris. Indeed he is also club chairman, a distinction he share with brother Mark Morris, who is chair at home with Enniskillen Gaels.
Working as a telecoms manager with Vodafone he has been over the other side of the Irish Sea since 1989, not that time has succeeded in knocking the edges of his Fermanagh lilt.
Morris steered the All-Britain junior champions to this weekend’s All-Ireland club semi-final with victory over Oileain Árainn. The Galway champions had caught the imagination having beaten fellow islanders Achill in the Connacht final. In some quarters they were being mooted as potential champions. Morris admits that the hype helped sharpen apetites in Liverpool.
“We loved that. We loved hearing everything about Oileain Árainn and how they had their sights set on an All-Ireland title,” said Morris. “I think they got a bit carried away with the romance of it.
“The experience of having to travel to England for a match was probably a bit of novelty for them, whereas we’ve done that [the travelling] before. The disappointment of our game against Emyvale last year was driving us on so we were well prepared for them and we got a very good start against them.”
That’s one way of putting it. A goal from Armagh man Colly Murphy in the third minute and points from Michael Molloy (2) and Kieran Lynham gave the Mitchel’s a 1-3 to 0-0 lead after five minutes which Oileain Árainn never recovered from.
And Morris isn’t the only Erne county man involed with the side.
“John McDermott from Brookeborough was our captain in 2008 when we got to the All-Ireland junior final,” said Morris. “The other lad playing is Paddy Murphy from Derrygonnelly. Paul Melanaphy from Kinawley played in 2008 and is still involved with the club, but he’s not with the panel this year.”
For Morris himself, the GAA is in the DNA. His father, Kevin who passed away in 2006, was heavily involved in the Gaels club all his life. Along with brother Mark, Barry cut his teeth playing the the urban league games in Brewster park.
Little surprise then that when he landed on Mersey shores in ‘89 he made contact straightaway with John Mitchel’s in the form of Chris Johnston from Ardee.
Later he got involved with the John Moore’s univeristy side, winning the All-Britain universities competition in 2000 and playing in the Trench cup.
After a few years in abeyance the Mitchel’s club was resurrected in 2006. This time Morris was at the helm, remaining in charge for four years before taking a two year sabatical and returning for a second stint.
Last year they reached the All-Ireland quarter-finals only to come to grief against eventual champions Emyvale. This year they’ve gone one step further, and Morris doesn’t intend to stop now.
“Our experience from 2008 taught us that nerves got to a lot of us and our start to that game was probably what finished us off in the end. We only lost by a point. I think those experiences will stand to us,” said Morris.
They face a strong Moate All Whites side from Westmeath. Morris has done his homeworks and knows that although the 1997 senior county champions have fallen by the wayside somewhat, they have put a big effort in at underage over the last number of years and won two county minor championships. Add in a number of ex-county stalwarts and they are a side to be reckoned with.
“We’re under no illusions that it’s a huge task that we face,” said Morris.
Nevertheless, the Mitchel’s won’t want for support in Navan this Sunday.
“I know from our previous experience that we’ve had good support at home, because not only do the squad’s families and friends travel, we’ve also had many players going through John Mitchel’s over the years and they keep in contact so we expect a good crowd,” said Morris.