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Scotstown's desire to be crowned Ulster champions is bordering on obsession

 

By Declan Bogue

If Brexit should bring a hard border with it, it would make life difficult for Scotstown manager Kieran Donnelly.

Living in Coonian in County Fermanagh, he is one 'outside manager' who has one of the shortest commutes to the club he manages, less than 10 miles through Knockatallon Forest to his destination snugly inside the Monaghan border.

As a child growing up, his club Brookeboro Heber MacMahon's were a blue collar outfit. The local glamour was to be had on trips to watch Scotstown towards the fag-end of their outrageously successful years.

His family had ties with Scotstown. Granny Callaghan had brothers who played on a successful Roslea Shamrocks team that won the Fermanagh Championship and they were friends with the Morgan family, of whom Scotstown centre-back Donal is a direct descendent.

"So I would have known about the great Scotstown team," Donnelly says.

"It is the neighbouring parish. You are always aware of the history of the club and the success. It was a great privilege to be able to go and manage a great club, a proud club as well."

The kind of prestige Scotstown enjoy now eluded him as a player. He was a mere schoolboy in St Michael's College when he made his county debut for Fermanagh under Terry Ferguson in the mid-90s, and a teenager on the side that won an All-Ireland B in 1996.

He played in an All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Tyrone in 2003, but when the side unexpectedly found themselves contesting an All-Ireland semi-final replay against Mayo the following year he was off the panel, wiped out by a mystery virus that ended his county career.

Coaching though was a passion nurtured through his teaching career in Omagh CBS, where he won a Corn na nÓg title in 2002, before bringing most of that team through to lift a MacRory Cup three years later.

A spell as Peter Canavan's coach at Errigal Ciaran led to two years in the same role with Fermanagh. But it is unmistakably the last two seasons, and this one in particular where he has plotted a way through Derrygonnelly in the preliminary round, Burren in the quarters and a sticky encounter with Coleraine in the semi-final that he has served notice of his abilities as a number one ahead of this Sunday's Ulster club final against Gaoth Dobhair.

The difficulty in getting here has been pronounced. The pre-tournament favourites for many, they struggled against the organised defences of Derrygonnelly and Coleraine and, while things were more open against Burren, they still hit 12 wides in the first half and could have been caught at the end, only referee Sean Hurson waved away a valid penalty claim for Burren.

"The way our year has gone, we have had to work extremely hard for every Championship game," says Donnelly.

It's a measure of his abilities, but the one player on their panel to pull them through their last five games has been goalkeeper Rory Beggan, who from autumn through into winter has played at times as an auxiliary midfielder.

Even when Scotstown have possession overturned, he refuses to sprint back to his goalmouth, hanging around the middle to see if they can win it back by pressing.

"I think with Rory at this stage his talent is there for everyone to see," says Donnelly.

"I was delighted for him to get his All-Star. There was no doubt that he was the best goalkeeper this year. For me, he was the standout best goalkeeper in Ireland so I was delighted he was recognised for that.

"He works extremely hard - like any good player at a good level it is because he does that bit extra.

"He has added that dimension to his game. It is something we utilise and it brings more to our game. He can be hard to mark and it has worked for us no doubt in big games."

Donnelly has also been aided on the sideline this season by former Director-General of the GAA Páraic Duffy, who also managed the Scotstown reserve side in his first year of retirement.

"Páraic is one of these men who just knows his football. He is a down to earth individual and I think a lot of our players would have a lot of respect for him. He was their principal at school, he coached them at underage," says Donnelly, referring to Duffy's time as Principal of St Macartan's College in Monaghan town.

"For me, it was an obvious fit. I wanted a fresh voice, something different.

"You are always looking to add something to it and we felt Paraic would be an excellent addition."

Prior to 2013, Scotstown went 20 years without a county title. It's 29 years since their last Ulster club title.

They might never have thought it would be a man from over the county border in Fermanagh to lead them back, but here they are.

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