Profile – Gerard Connolly
Sunday, 01 August 1999 00:00
“Town” have, down the years, been singularly fortunate to have been served by a considerable number of dedicated and distinguished legislators, many of whom have also played with distinction for the Club. A profile of the man from season 1999/2000.
Gerard Connolly, or “Wee Scone” as he is better known, falls into both categories but it is as an administrator that his talents are best known. From an early age he revealed an aptitude for sport and proficiency at Gaelic Football and Soccer were evident but it was as a Gaelic footballer that he achieved considerable distinction. As a 16 year old he played in the 1970 McRory Cup final for St Michael’s against St Malachy’s (and a certain Martin O’Neill) and was corner back on the Fermanagh minor team which reached consecutive Ulster minor championship finals in 1970 and 1971. He is one of the few “Town” players to have won a Rannafast cup winner’s medal as many youth team players will readily testify. He also played hurling but there was little affinity with the instrument of the game – his preference was to score with either foot.
Although he never reached the same heights as a soccer player it did not diminish his enthusiasm and enjoyment from playing the game and for a long time he was a familiar figure in the club colours. As his playing career waned in the late 1970’s he accepted an invitation to become secretary of the “Town” and rapidly revealed a natural aptitude for the administrative side of the game. He brought tremendous improvements to the general administration and organisation of the club and he has regularly stated “Town’s” case, in his own inimitable manner, in the corridors of power where he has inevitably clashed with officialdom and some well known personalities.
His name is synonymous with the club (and the club’s with his) but his influence stretches way beyond the confines of Celtic Park and is best illustrated by his cajoling in persuading local club officials to countenance the formation of a separate Reserve Challenge Cup competition – The Reihill Cup – in 1986 some 12 months after the same club officials rejected his visionary proposal to establish a separate league for reserve teams. He was also the prime mover behind the establishment last season of the autonomous Fermanagh & Western Youth League (now the Brendan Keogh Youth League) which as proved to be an enormous success.
Despite his deep distrust of the establishment he agreed to become registrar of the Fermanagh & Western Football association in 1984 and promptly set about overhauling its archaic registration and transfer system. Three years later he succeeded the late Brendan Keogh as secretary and he brought a fresh impetus to the position and effected radical changes in the administration of football in the area.
He resigned from the top administrative post in local football in early April 1993 and it was no accident that his resignation should coincide with the emergence of the Club’s Under-18 team as a force regionally. Hitherto the clubs underage teams had enjoyed phenomenal success in local competitions but had enjoyed limited external fortunes. In conjunction with John Illand and Paul Keaveney he engendered a new self belief in the players and advocated that the Irish Youth Cup did not have to be an unrealistic dream which “Town” indulged in for a time every year. He proclaimed that is was a perfectly practical proposition and the youth team subsequently vindicated his proclamation by their performances in the Irish Youth Cup – reaching five semi-finals and one quarter final in the ensuing six seasons. In addition, his charges have won several N.Ireland 5-a-side titles and it seems inevitable that such regional pre-eminence will culminate in eventual success in Youth Football’s Blue Riband trophy.
“Wee Scone” always wants things done his way – that’s the way with people like him. But they’re the ones who get things done. He never hides his opinions and is never afraid to express them – often brandishing them them in the faces of those with whom he disagrees. He loves the cut and thrust of argument backed by years of experience and an encyclopaedic knowledge to back his claims. He revels in debate – the more contentious the issue the more resolutely he propagates his arguments.
With him there are no half measures. He does not have time for cosmetic either in life generally or football in particular and he can see it through with perception. He is the first to admin that he does not rank as the most popular individual in local football circles but even his critics, and he has many, can’t deny that he does his job well and it is his proficiency which as already guaranteed him a very special place in the history of the club.
Who were the biggest influences on your career?My late father who taught me that all man are equal no matter what their pretensions and the late Michael Brewster who taught me that there is no substitute for skill on the playing field.
Who were your most difficult opponents?
On the field nobody that I can recall – all opponents were treated with the same respect. Off the field, alcohol and cigarettes. I had my last alcoholic drink (a very large gin and tonic) on 22nd October 1984 and I quit smoking on 13th April 1992.
What was the best match you were involved in?
A 3-3 away draw with Victoria Bridge United on the opening day of the 1975-1976 season which was the day after a day of excesses at Belcoo Sports.
What was your biggest thrill in the game?
“Town” winning every cup competition they entered in season 1993/1994 – Irish Junior Cup, Mulhern Cup, Reihill Cup, Lowry-Corry Cup and Brendan McCaffrey Cup. The visit of Celtic U15s on 23rd September 1995 was also a highlight – it is reported that Celtic starlet March Burchill overcame his phobia of scoring that day.
What are you biggest disappointments in the game?
“Town’s” continued failure to win the Mercel League and the Irish Youth Cup.
Have you ever been booked of sent off?
I was booked on many occasions but only sent off once – for “fowl” language!
What are your favourite grounds?
Celtic Park, Enniskillen; Lakeside Park, Loughgall (scene of “Town’s” never-to-be forgotten Irish Junior Cup win); Ferney Part, Ballinamallard (scene of “Town’s” three Mulhern Cup triumphs and several Reihill Cup successes); Drumad, Lisbellaw (scene of “Town’s” other Reihill Cup successes) and Landsdowne Road, Dublin.
Who are your favourite “Town” players of the past?
I will be accused of favouritism but I have to mention my older brother Sean who was equally at home playing centre-halk or centre-forward; Jim McClintock who is probably the best player to have played for “Town”; Kenny Maguire who is undoubtedly the best goalkeeper the lcub has had and Gary Beckett whose goalscoring exploits for “Town” are legendary.
Which present day “Town” players do you most admire?
Michael McGovern who, if he continues to progress, must surely play at the highest level and Kieran McKenna who also appears to have a great future ahead of him.
What were the best goals you have ever seen?
Gary Beckett’s winning goal against Dergview in the 1992/93 Kennedy Cup Final, Damian Love’s equalising goal against Oxford United in the Irish Junior Cup Final, Rory Judge’s winners in the subsequent replay and in the 1993/94 Mulhern Cup Final against Enniskillen Rangers.
What other sports do you enjoy?
I enjoy watching Gaelic Football and Rugby League football.
What are your hopes for next season?
For “Town” to be successful on and off the field of play and to effect the implementation of a separate Youth structure within the club.
What are your long term ambitions?
For “Town” to purchase their own grounds and move up to a higher grade of football and to improve the quality of coaching for all our players.