Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

How legacy of tragic Damian is spurring on Derrygonnelly in title quest


Upbeat: Brendan Rasdale has a plan in place to guide Derrygonnelly to victory over Scotstown tomorrow
Upbeat: Brendan Rasdale has a plan in place to guide Derrygonnelly to victory over Scotstown tomorrow
Damian McGovern
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The story of Derrygonnelly Harps truly began, as many GAA stories do, with 'The Split'.

The area of Boho was always an independent republic sitting atop of the only mountainous region of Fermanagh, containing a spectacular cave network. The locals had a strong sense of identity and one of their means of expression was through the Boho St Faber's club.

Francie Rasdale was one of the driving forces behind it, but by 1975, emigration finally killed off the club. Players were granted free transfers and, while some went to Belcoo O'Rahillys, the majority joined Derrygonnelly Harps.

Twenty years later, with the benefit of the next generation of Boho men including Kevin 'Sticks' McGrath at corner forward, the Harps won their first-ever county Championship.

Twenty years after that, they won their fourth, which was the start of the present four-in-a-row run of success.

The likes of county defenders Eamonn McHugh and Mickey Jones are Boho men.

They come into direct conflict this weekend against Scotstown in the Ulster club preliminary round in Clones.

On the sideline, in his third coming and assisted by club legend Sean Flanagan, is Brendan Rasdale.

At 45, he still lines out at full-forward for the Harps' thirds team.

At 31, he took over the team in 2004 and they won a Senior Championship.

"I was always on and off our senior team really, and I was a junior footballer," he says.

It hasn't stopped him being obsessed with the game.

At 19, Hugh Kelly - one of a number of 'visionaries' the Harps have had as chairman, Rasdale states - got him to take an underage team.

In the early '90s the club were ahead of the curve in getting their underage structures right.

That's why they are able to field three teams.

A teacher in St Michael's, Enniskillen, this week Rasdale was away on Tuesday with a Corn Na nÓg team and had the first year team the day after.

"And then in the Harps, well I play a bit with the thirds, I help out with the Under-6s, my wife and I and a couple of others, we take the 6s on a Sunday morning. There are about eight of us," he explains.

"I help out this year with Niall Smyth - Niall is our stats man as well with the seniors.

"We took on the Under-8s and kept them ticking over, brought them to the Moy and a few of those blitzes and things.

"So busy, you could say."

And he is also the club PRO. When engaged in talking about his club, he radiates good publicity.

"The man who will always be remembered in our club for putting a good shape on our club was Hugh Kelly," he enthuses.

"Hughie really is a man who, a lot of the things that have happened in our club, Hugh was involved in the beginning.

"And, of course, thereafter. He is one of the fellas who is the real visionary type."

He continues: "Derrygonnelly, why do they do well as a club? We have loads of people who work.

"Like, plenty of clubs are carried by 20 people - we are lucky, we are carried by 40 people.

"Okay, there is a core, but we have got a big and above average number of people who are willing to get in and graft. And maybe success helps that happen."

There's perhaps more to it than that.

A few years back, they secured a grant to do up a second pitch on their premises.

There had been some thought previously to building an ambitious two-storey pavilion, dressing rooms and meeting rooms.

When it came to funding, there was nothing in the public pot.

But go to any hardware premises in the county and the chances are you would bump into Derrygonnelly people.

"It's Fermanagh's tradesmen capital," laughs Rasdale.

And so, they built it themselves.

Paid for materials themselves and all the brickies, joiners and the vast squad of plasterers in the parish set to work.

"An 18 month job but we are back to Hughie Kelly again," says Rasdale.

"We had been saving for the building, we got a chance to do the pitch so we bogged all our money into the pitch and we have two good fields now."

Nobody worked harder on that project, and in his various roles, as one man whose memory comes into sharp focus around his anniversary on October 2, Damian McGovern.

A former chairman, manager of underage teams and the thirds, his passing through an industrial accident in 2015 is still keenly felt.

It's impossible for Rasdale to talk about him without getting emotional but he does so anyway.

"Damian was a phenomenal energy source for our club. And his workrate, throw in his personality, he was pure enthusiasm. There was something about him.

"To me personally, and I think for a lot of our lads… how does Damian's influence live with us?

"It's making the most of every single day you get and do your best in it.

"There wasn't many wasted days when he was about and that is something that is nearly on everyone's mind.

"We may not say it, but every day we think it."

Last year, the Harps played magnificently to come within seconds of qualifying for the Ulster club final, but five goals leaked to Cavan Gaels punctured them.

"There is a lot of regret in our club about that one," recalls Rasdale.

"We are damn keen to give this Sunday our best shot and see if we can take one step on from our Cavan Gaels performance, and that is what we are looking to do. To see if we can be a wee bit better than we were against Cavan Gaels, and we think we can play better.

"We have referenced it a bit.

"We played brilliantly but we are looking to step on."

To do so would be to not waste a single day. As Damian would have wanted.



Ulster Club SFC Preliminary Round

Clones, Tomorrow, 2.30pm

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph