Beacom in lead role as Gaels eye glory
Thirty years have elapsed since Enniskillen Gaels last won the prestigious Ulster minor football tournament but today skipper Eoin Beacom hopes to prove inspirational in bridging that gap when he leads the current side out against St Colm's, Ballinascreen in the decider.
It's at the St Paul's complex at Shaw's Road in west Belfast (1.30pm) that the curtain will come down on a competition that has provided a particularly high standard of fare, a series of towering individual displays and offered proof that the future of Ulster football is indeed in good hands.
Beacom's influence was profound in the Enniskillen side's taming of Cavan representatives Ramor United and in their hard-earned semi-final win over Donegal outfit St Eunan's, Letterkenny.
But impressive as his side were in these games, Beacom agrees that they will have to hit a new peak today if they hope to take the trophy back to the west of the province.
"While our form to date has given us confidence, we know that it will take a huge effort to get past Ballinascreen. They have shown that they are a very well-organised and efficient side and we know that they will be very hungry for success," maintains Beacom.
The all-action midfield ace is in the vanguard of an outfit that includes a generous ration of quality players such as Conor Love, Ronan Beattie, Johnny Cassidy, Callum Jones, Matthew Dixon and Gavin Greene. They will face a Ballinascreen side that have shown skill, composure and resilience to date despite having been pushed to the limit by O'Donovan Rossa in their semi-final before winning by 2-5 to 0-8 but only after the Antrim side suffered the dismissal of two players.
Emmett Duggan, Reece McSorley, Euan McBride, Martin Bradley, Aaron Bradley, Caolite McAlinden, Cathal Donnelly and Ciaran Doyle help to underpin the Oak Leaf team who have shown a tendency to do things the hard way yet still get there.
Manager Barry Dillon, who played with his native Magherafelt in the 1992 competition, is aware that his Ballinascreen side will be tested to the full today.
"We know that Enniskillen will have taken confidence from their performances to date and that they will be very hungry for success," he concedes, "But just the same we would like to get our hands on the trophy for the first time. Derry as a county has a proud reputation in this tournament and we would like to enhance that further if we can."
Indeed, Derry sides have appeared in 20 finals since the tournament's inception 36 years ago and in that time it has proved a major spawning ground for Oak Leaf talent with the Glen club from Maghera reaping considerable benefits in this respect.
But while Ballinascreen will undoubtedly seek comfort from their county's imposing reputation, Enniskillen Gaels will go into the game on something of a high because of the fervour which the final has triggered within their county.
Peter McGinnity, one of Fermanagh's all-time great players, is among those who has got behind the side with considerable enthusiasm in urging them to make their own little piece of history.
"It's terrific to see a Fermanagh club in the hunt for honours and while we have had to wait 30 years to perhaps see the trophy return, if the boys can do it today then the wait will have been well worth it," says McGinnity (left).
One thing is certain, there will be no lack of passion and pride both on the pitch and on the terraces at Shaw's Road!