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Conall out to ensure that Harps can book their final passage

 

By Declan Bogue

Conall Jones of Derrygonnelly Harps and Fermanagh was born in 1992, the same summer that his current team-mates Kevin Cassidy and Dermot 'Peggy' Feely, along with current manager Martin 'Archie' Greene, made their debut for the club in purple and gold.

And tomorrow they all go to battle together for the club's biggest-ever game in the Ulster Club senior semi-final replay against Cavan Gaels in Clones.

"Those three boys were the three main men back then and they are still very potent in our team at the minute," says Jones of his memories growing up as one of the boys that hung around the back of the goals in the hope of getting to kick a stray ball back over the wire in Canon Maguire Park.

"It's an absolute credit to the boys how they have kept themselves in such good shape and injury-free. You look at them now and they are still mixing with the best all these years on," he adds.

Derrygonnelly Harps are truly a special club. When they came to build a state of the art clubhouse a few years back, the club volunteers all chipped in, the tradesmen among their membership grafted at weekends and on long evenings. Thankfully their efforts are rewarded with a team they can be proud of.

One of those tradesmen, Damian McGovern, was manager of the junior side and the youth chairman when he passed away in early October, 2015. He was one of those do anything and everything types that can be easily taken for granted when he was snatched from this life by an industrial accident.

The Harps were due to play a county final that weekend against Roslea that was postponed. His loss is still keenly felt.

"He was a huge inspiration for the club. Especially in the 2015 Championship," recalls Jones now.

"It definitely brought us all together, and I suppose every big match in the Championship we're always thinking about Damian and his name always comes up in team talks.

"It gives you that extra few per cent that you need.

"Normally, Damian's anniversary mass would be in around the time of the Championship final. So it puts everything into perspective. Everything Damian gave the club, it makes you want to give a bit more and you want to do it for him, do it for everyone that has given so much for the club as well."

They haven't lost a game in the Fermanagh Championship since, putting three titles together on the bounce and claiming the double-double last year.

Contributing to that success is a balancing act for Jones. By day he works in social housing projects for Connswater Housing in Belfast, developing land for social housing and buying properties in the open market to refurbish and rent out.

But there comes a time when every young man wants to see a bit of the world and he's only back from a year's travelling alongside his girlfriend, Caoimhe Sweeney of Belcoo.

After a quick stop in Dubai, they made their way along Australia's Gold Coast, ticking off the usual bucket list entries such as the Whitsunday Islands and diving on the Great Barrier Reef, before his Fermanagh colleague, Richie O'Callaghan of Enniskillen, brought him to Melbourne to play for Wolfe Tones in the Victoria Championship, which they won, adding the Gosford Tournament along the way.

But all things must end and he is back on Ulster soil, although he found the pull of Melbourne - with a sun getting warmer - hard to leave.

It's not all bad at home.

Alongside Conall on the team are his brother and county team mate Ryan (26) and younger brother Garvan (21). Another team mate is cousin Lee Jones.

"The whole Jones, it's just football, football, football," laughs Conall.

His father Eamonn used to be a plastering contractor who now houses hens and is an egg producer. The house is a mixture of football and farming.

Outside, Eamonn has cows and sheep grazing the fields. Inside, their mother Ellen keeps her strapping sons in the food they need to mix it on the pitch.

"Dad reckons he never got the chance to play football, but I think he mightn't be able to kick snow off a rope!" he adds.

"It brings the whole family together and we know mum and dad are very proud of us. The aunties and uncles would call round after the games to talk about it."

They have plenty to chew over these days when it comes to the post-mortems.

The Harps have dominated their own county, something of a prerequisite if you wish to compete consistently in Ulster. The first two years they came out of Fermanagh they were unfortunate to come up against Slaughtneil.

In 2015, there was a hangover of emotion and perhaps something else as they honoured Damian McGovern and they lost by 18 points in Owenbeg.

Last year they prepared better and shaved the margin to five points.

"The two games definitely brought the boys on. It's a certain type of game you play in Ulster, it's maybe not the game you would play in the County Championship," Jones explains.

"But it definitely brings you on as a footballer. Boys have to be smarter, make better use of the ball, know when to give it and when to hold onto it and that kind of game brought the boys on."

This time around, they achieved their first-ever win at this level by beating Armagh Harps in the quarter-final. Tempting as it might have been to kick back for the year, last Sunday they had Cavan Gaels at their mercy in the drawn match but let them off the hook, leading to the replay tomorrow in Clones.

Still, you won't find this man pinching himself.

"To be honest, personally it is where I want to be," states Jones with realism.

"It's where I want to play my football. I think we are good enough to be there and I think we deserve to be there and I really look forward to games like that.

"Previously, I would have got nervous before big games. But in the last two years or so I never get nervous. I really look forward to them because that's where I want to be, that's where we all want to be.

"We train hard all year round and we know we are as good as any team in Ulster."

Time to make the final leap.

Belfast Telegraph

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