Hall of Fame and Merit Awards 2019
February 28, 2019
On Friday the 22nd February in the Killyhevlin Hotel, Enniskillen the Fermanagh and Western Association & League honored 4 special people for all they have done for local football. Gerard Connolly was inducted into the Fermanagh and Western Hall of Fame, with Alan Nesbitt, Mervyn Nixon and George Parkinson all receiving deserved Merit Awards.
Hall of Fame inductee - Gerard Connolly
Neill Jardine (Chairman of the Fermanagh and Western Football League) presents Gerard Connolly with his award
Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, our final award and the main event of the evening is the induction of our 13th member into the Hall of Fame, Gerard Connolly. It is very fitting that we are here to honour Gerry tonight, as these awards and recognition of service were his idea back in 2010. However, when we asked clubs for their nominations at the November Management Committee, nobody, not least the man himself, would have predicted that it would have been Gerry receiving the main award this evening. Gerry’s decision to call time on his role as League & Match Secretary on 29th November was not expected or foreseen, but the Committee decided that now was the correct time to add his name to those in the Hall of Fame, many of whom Gerry had served alongside. Gerard Connolly, or “Wee Scone” as he is also known started his football career in the late sixties, playing for Slack & Parr, Irvinestown Wanderers and Enniskillen Corinthians prior to the formation of Enniskillen Town United in 1970, a club he is synonymous and indelibly linked with. A talented gaelic footballer who played in a McCrory Cup Final in 1970 and played at Minor level for Fermanagh, he played with the Town until the late seventies, a period when the new club did not enjoy much success in terms of silverware. In 1979, Gerry took on the role of Club Secretary with Enniskillen Town United, a role he has fulfilled for 30 years out of the past 40. He has been a member of the Management Committee of the club from its formation, with a sojourn from 1972 for a number of years whilst at college until the present day, fulfilling the additional role of Treasurer for the past 15 years. December also saw Gerry relinquish the post of Club Secretary to Toni Judge, and accede to the role of Chairman. In addition to his continuous administrative duties, Gerry also managed every team in the club from the A Team to the Under 11s. It is his role with the underage teams along with John Illand and the late Paul Keavney that most will remember him for; indeed, the vibrant youth policy he engendered at the club was ahead of most clubs, not only in this area, but throughout the province. This was evidenced by the fact that over a 10-year period, the U-18 team reached 5 semi-finals and 5 quarter finals of the Harry Cavan Youth Cup, at a time when few other Fermanagh & Western clubs even entered the competition. Not only did this youth section provide a steady stream of players to the senior club, it produced players who graced the highest level, the most famous graduates were Gary Beckett who forged a long and distinguished career both in the Irish League and more notably with Derry City, Michael McGovern who moved from ‘Town to Glasgow Celtic and was a star performer for Northern Ireland at the Euro2016 in France and Kieran McKenna, whose playing career was at Tottenham Hotspur was cruelly curtailed due to injury, but is now blazing a trail as First Team Coach at Manchester United. The 1993/94 season was a turning point for the club, securing a first Irish Junior Cup to go along with a second Mulhern Cup, in fact the club won every knockout competition it entered in that season. Despite this, it wasn’t until the 2004/05 season before the first Mercer title was secured, and in true London bus style, after waiting 35 years, the Mercer was retained for the next five years. It is widely recognised that the levels of sustained success achieved on the field can be directly linked back to Gerry, and the structures and procedures he instilled behind the scenes. If you would have said 10 years ago that the Fermanagh & Western would be honouring Gerard Connolly, and not only that, but it would be Neil Jardine giving the oration lauding him; well I think the men in white coats would be arriving via flying pigs to talk to you; but here we are, and here I am. Gerry has never cowered away from controversary and it could be said that he would look for an argument simply to enjoy the cut and trust of debate! Despite his avowed distrust for authority, Gerry joined the Management Committee of the Fermanagh & Western in the early 80s, taking over as Registrar in 1984. Gerry’s first legacy was the introduction of the Reihill Cup in 1986, the first competition solely for Reserve Teams. In 1987, Gerard stepped up the role of Secretary following the retirement of the much-respected Brendan Keogh. It was immediately apparent that his administrative capabilities were without equal, but it would also be fair to say that there was as much animosity directed towards Gerry as there was respect for his work. On April Fool’s Day 1994, Gerry decided that he could no longer work within the hierarchy of the League and resigned, signalling a stand-off behind the two parties for around eighteen months. Gerry returned to front line administration in 1998, assuming the role of Secretary in the autonomous Fermanagh & Western Youth League, which became the Brendan Keogh Youth League, staying for a tenure of 10 years. During this time, his ever-meticulous administration set the new body in good stead and encouraged more local clubs to provide dedicated youth structures expanding the reach of the game further. In 2009, my tenure as Secretary of the League was ended by Gerry by a single vote, the only time in living memory a sitting principal officer had been challenged at an Annual General Meeting and lost. Gerry had decided that change was required and that he would be the man to deliver that change, setting himself a five-year period of office to achieve this. A comprehensive review of rules was undertaken and is still in process, new initiatives such as tonight’s gathering were introduced to further raise the profile and prestige of the League. Whilst Gerry’s adm inistrative skills were unquestioned, it was a constant annoyance to him that many clubs did not adopt a similar stance. An information evening was laid on by the League each year in late July to school clubs in the need for efficient administration and to steer them in the correct direction to avoid falling fo u l of the rules. Unfortunately, the clubs who chose to shun this initiative were usually those that digressed in the coming season; Gerry would no t miss an opportunity to remind them of their tardines attending and the subsequent sanction they had evoked. Another major event s in not was launched in the shape of the end of season awards ceremony, whe re teams mark the performance of their opponents and referee after each game with all marks collated to provide teams of the year and players of the year in each of the three divisions, along with referee and young referee and player and young player of the year. After a few early problems and anomalies, this has proved to be an extremely worthy event and for those who have been in attendance, a perfect vehicle for displaying the organisational skills of “Wee Scone”. For the past 8 years, I have occupied the role of Chairman, witnessing at first hand the effort and preparation Gerry put into this demanding role. Whilst I have touched on the somewhat fractious nature of our relationship in the past, I wish to make it clear that in this period I consider that Gerry has been nothing but professional in his dealings with myself and those in the League, and that at no time has he taken any unilateral decisions that may be construed as controversial without consulting me . Indeed, I am indebted to him for his counsel on many occasions and am honoured to have worked so closely with him in the betterment of the League. His encyclopaedic knowledge of rule, articles and especially precedent in certain cases is frightening, and on more than one occasion I have been the butt of his ire and frustration when a decision has been made that was not to his satisfaction . However, decision made, move on and get on with the job in hand I think there is something in this for our political representatives to take heed of.wee As you are all aware, Gerry has suffered indifferent health in the last two years, notably a three k residential stay in the SWAH, rumour has it he now has a reserved seat at the clinics, such has been the frequency of his visits for further tests. This precipitated his desire to move away from the more stressful parts of his life and when compiling thi s , I rather tongueincheek asked how he was going to spend his retirement; it has been said that as a life long civil servant he might find it hard to know the difference between working and retirement. An avid Celtic fan, more frequent visits to Parkhead are planned, as are live concerts following two trips to see the Rolling Stones last summer. Gerry has an extensive music, film and literary collection that have not been fully appreciated over the last number of years and he looks forward to getting rea cquainted with these; that is, when he is not availing of his free travel on Translink thanks to his senior smart card. Enniskillen Town United celebrate their Golden Jubilee next year and it is no surprise that Gerry has already plans at an advanced stage for this event, and now that he has more time on his side, it is his intention to write a club history to commemorate the landmark. Gerry once commented that his toughest opponents were not on the football field, but the twin vices of alcohol and smoking, from which he freed himself in 1984 and 1992 respectively. However, it is clear to all that his undoubted skill and talent lay in administration, both at club and at local level. He will prove a difficult act to follow doing his jobevidenced by the fact that there a re now two people but one thing is for sure; the structures and procedures that he developed, and our means for carrying out the business of the League, will stand those of us who continue, and those who will follow us in years to come, in v ery good stead, and Gerard Conolly accordingly, is a very fit person to be now inducted into the Fermanagh & Western Football League Ha ll of Fame.
Merit Award Winner - Alan Nesbitt
Sam Dennison (Assistant Treasurer of the Fermanagh and Western Football League) presents Alan Nesbitt with his award
This evening it gives me great pleasure to welcome Alan Nesbitt onto our prestigious Merit Awards roster. He has graced the game at the highest level of local football, first as a league winning player, then as a highly regarded referee and now currently as Assistant Manager of First Division Mountjoy United. Yet it all started back in 1970 when a young Alan first togged out for Omagh Ellands Youths where he spent five years learning the craft of scoring goals and fine tuning his technique. In 1975 as a youthful 16-year-old he signed for Sporting Spartak from Drumquin and made his debut in F&W Division Two. Alan recalls with a smile that he helped keep the Ulsterbus route profitable at the weekends when he travelled on the bus from his home in Omagh to and from the Drumquin pitch! In 1977 Alan joined Mountjoy United where he received the nickname – ‘Nipper’ which has stayed with him ever since. Mountjoy’s Ronnie Jack had observed Alan as being nippy on the football field and so the Nipper name was born! It was involvement with Mountjoy that encouraged young Alan’s father, Bob Nesbitt, to become interested in football, leading to his father’s subsequent strong association with the Fermanagh & Western Committee’s administration. In the 1978-79 season Alan helped Mountjoy to claim the runners-up position in Division Two thus gaining promotion to the top flight. Alan recounts the crucial match that year was when they met Irvinestown Wanderers, their league title rivals. He scored 4 goals in the match but Mountjoy lost the high scoring encounter 7-6. Typical of modest Alan, he acknowledges that a certain Paul Cassidy matched his 4 goal haul for Irvinestown that day. Alan then left Mountjoy to play the 1980-81 season with Newtownstewart based Killymore Rovers. He scored an impressive 31 goals that season in Division One. Scoring as prolifically as this, it wasn’t long before Alan’s playing ability attracted the attention of his hometown senior club, Omagh Town and he joined them in 1981. Alan played in the ‘B’ Division with Omagh Town until 1985. One of his abiding memories is their Irish Cup trip away to Cliftonville where Omagh Town were narrowly beaten 1-0. Alan’s playing journey then took him to Irvinestown Wanderers where he had a successful season in 1985-86, receiving a Division One Runners-up medal and playing in the Irish Junior Cup and Mulhern Cup Semi-Finals. Interestingly, Alan believes he may have scored one of the earliest goals ever in the Fermanagh & Western. During the 1986-87 season he vividly recalls the match for Irvinestown against Omagh Town Reserves. It was played at Donnelly’s Holm with an unusual 9.30am kick-off time. Alan scored 15 minutes into the game, thus cementing his claim to fame that he has scored the earliest ever goal in the F&W! Incidentally, the match finished 2-1 to Irvinestown and was refereed by Pat Chesters, 2016 F&W Merit Award recipient. Once again Omagh Town came in and Alan teamed up with former Irvinestown manager, Raymond Erskine for the 1987-88 season. However, it was a short stay as he was persuaded to return to Irvinestown Wanderers for 1988-89 and it was a very productive year, with Alan ending up a Division One Winner’s Medal. Unfortunately, this season also ended with much disappointment for Alan when he had to retire from playing competitively after rupturing his cruciate ligament against former club, Killymore Rovers. Normally this injury would have resulted in many players taking a more sedate view of life, even looking away from football but Alan decided that he had still plenty to offer the local game. It could be said that he needed football and that the local game needed him. Alan then took up refereeing which signalled a whole new direction in Alan’s sporting career. His first match with the whistle was an entertaining 5-5 draw between Shelbourne Reserves and Fivemiletown Reserves at Omagh Leisure Centre during the 1989-90 season. Ultimately Alan went on to referee in over 400 matches. Having played at the highest level locally helped Alan to efficiently administer the rules of the game. Many of the players and teams knew him and combined with his affable personality and impartiality meant it wasn’t long before his fine refereeing performances were promptly recognised. Alan was appointed to referee the 1991 Reihill Cup Final won by Enniskillen Town Reserves and in 1993 he was assistant referee in the Mulhern Cup Final between Enniskillen Rangers v Dergview. He was again selected as assistant referee for the Mulhern Final in 2001 between Lisnaskea Rovers and Tummery Athletic. The following year in 2002 Alan was the fourth official at the NFC Kesh v Barrowfield Mulhern Cup Final and in the subsequent Replay. In 2003 his performances resulted in being appointed as the referee for the all Tyrone Mulhern Cup Final contested by Shelbourne and Sperrin Athletic. Undoubtingly, the pinnacle of Alan’s many referee achievements was taking charge of the 2001 Irish Football Association’s Irish Junior Cup Final between F&W’s Irvinestown Wanderers and Dergview. He also stated that he enjoyed nothing more than taking charge of hotly contested local derbies in Tyrone and Fermanagh. Outside of refereeing, Alan managed Mountjoy United during the 1997-98 season and led them for 4 seasons when they took the step into Intermediate Football. Alan brought his experience as a player and referee to improve the players in his charge. He also made a positive impact on the progress of local female participation in football through managing Cappagh Spurs ladies team for three seasons. Alan helped found and managed Mountjoy Ladies in their first year, when they superseded Cappagh Spurs. Alan was then attracted to go back to Drumquin in 2013, after having played there 38 years previously, by taking charge of Division Two outfit, Drumquin United. He managed there for two seasons and took the village side to the final 16 of the Irish Junior Cup in 2013-14. His playing F&W career was temporarily resurrected at Drumquin United when he played out of necessity in a few cameo games, in defence, at the ripe young age of 56! Alan even led Drumquin United to victory in Europe during the summer of 2015 by player managing the team against French twinned village, Pont Remy, from the Somme region. In 2017 his interest in helping young players in the game was rewarded when Alan managed Mountjoy U18’s Boys to success in the Lowry Corry Cup. Alan recites that his most memorable moments in club management so far, includes taking the Intermediate Mountjoy team to the 4th Round of the Irish Cup and leading an unfancied Drumquin United to the last 16 of the Irish Junior Cup. He has coached many youth, reserve, senior and female teams over the years. Alan currently serves on Mountjoy United’s committee and this is the third year that he has been returned to sit on Tyrone Super Cup NI’s committee. Alan’s involvement in football currently remains totally undiminished, being David Gilfillan’s number two with Mountjoy United’s First Team and is just a year short of a half century of involvement in local football, with many more years forecast to come. Ladies and gentlemen it’s my pleasure and privilege to warmly congratulate Alan Nesbitt, player, referee, manager, as a very worthy recipient of a 2019 Merit Award.
Merit Award Winner - Mervyn Nixon
Gordon Lee (Treasurer of the Fermanagh and Western Football League) presents Mervyn Nixon with his award
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, our second recipient of the Fermanagh and Western Football Merit Award tonight is Ballinamallard United’s Mervyn Nixon. Mervyn Nixon was born into the Nixon Family from Ballinamallard, the youngest of a family of 12. His first involvement with Ballinamallard United began in 1978 and he remains heavily involved with the club today, now over 40 years continuous service to the club. In 1978 Ballinamallard United had only reformed 3 years earlier in 1975 and the reason Mervyn hadn’t got involved from the very start in 1975 was he was very busy doing something very different. I’m reliable informed he was an accomplished Guitar player in the Country and Western Show Band scene of the 60s and 70’s until he quit in the late 70’s. M aaybe that may revoke some conversation and memories later Mervyn. Mervyn also worked as Head Barman for many years in the busy Brooklands Hotel on Main Street Ballinamallard. Mervyn’s early roles within the relatively new Ballinamallard United in 1978 was as Club Secretary and Club Registrar but it is as the Clubs Groundsman that Mervyn is well known and indeed renowned. The Club purchased Ferney Park from Fermanagh District Council in 1988 and he has been and still is the clubs groundsman, now in his 31st year. Mervyn will be the first to acknowledge he had not been the clubs Groundsman on his own all those years and he has had many ‘helpers’ along the way including the Clubs first Chairman in 1975, Willie Aikan and in most recent years his good friend Alan Hurst whom is with him tonight along with other friends and club officials. I’m sure most here have been to Ferney Park at some time and seen the pristine and immaculately prepared pitch by Mervyn and if you have not I recommend you do go, to understand what I am trying to explain. We at BUFC are naturally very proud of both our pitch and our groundsman Mervyn. Mervyn received national recognition for his talents as a groundsman, first in season 11/12 when he won the “NI Championship groundsman of the season” which was quickly followed in the same season with “Overall Groundsman of the season". The next season 12/13 and Ballinamallard’s first season in the Irish Premiership Mervyn won the “Premiership Groundsman of the Season” which included the National stadium at Windsor Parks pitch. He also retained his “Overall Groundsman of the Season” the same season meaning Mervyn was National recognised as the Best Groundsman in our wee country for two years in a row. I believe this has brought great honour and recognition not just to Ballinamallard Utd but also to the Fermanagh and Western region. Also in my estimation Mervyn has also prepared well over 100 pitches for the Fermanagh and Western League and Association in his over 30 years as groundsman of BUFC. I would easily estimate since 1988 to date and the 30 odd Mulhern Cup finals that have been played since 88 Mervyn has prepared pitches in at least 25 of those finals and many many Reihill /Mulhern Cup Semi Finals and Reihill/Lowry Cup Finals and League play/off games. Ferney Park also hosted 2 Junior Cup Finals in 2000 and 2001 which of course Mervyn also prepared those Final pitches. Mervyn tells me his highlights in all his time involved with BUFC is winning the Intermediate Cup in 1995 under the Managership of the late Greg Turley and the promotion to the Irish Premier League in 2012. That’s my oration to Mervyn now over and as a friend now the past 35 years it only gives me personal pleasure to call Mervyn Nixon up here to receive his deserved F&W Merit Award.
Merit Award Winner - George Parkinson
George Parkinson recieving his Merit from Roy Cathcart ( Chairman of the Fermanagh and Western Football Association)
George, by his own admission, didn’t play much football in his youth, and is typically modest about his playing ability, but he recalls that his early interest in the game was prompted by the famous Broadmeadow Summer £500 Competitions of the 1960s where professionals such as Harry Gregg and Peter McParland appeared under assumed names. In 1968 he was encouraged by Eddie Charrity, one of the Fermanagh and Western’s prominent referees, to attend a six week course, even though, as he says, he had no more interest in refereeing than “flying up the chimney”, but with televised football becoming more popular, he thought he could learn more about the game. He was soon thrown in at the deep end because at that time the FWFL had expanded to two divisions so demand for referees was increased, and for the princely sum of 12/6 (or sixty two and a half pence), with no mileage allowance, he took charge of games involving the prominent team of the period - Rangers and Corinthians, Killymore Rovers and Lisbellaw United. There were, as he puts it, occasionally turbulent encounters to be controlled, and without the aid of red or yellow cards in those days. The referee had to make a note of the players’ names and addresses before a sending off. One match imprinted in his memory was a derby between Irvinestown Wanderers and Dromore where he sent off four players, after a free-for-all. George is happy to report that he enjoyed mutual respect then and ever since, even with the players who were most difficult to referee. Two men for whom he had particular respect in those days were Jim Keenan of Rangers and Paul Keaveney of Corinthians who never left the field after the match without shaking his hand. They were two gentlemen, he recalls: “Paul even refereed his own players with you during the match.” The highlight of George’s refereeing career was his appointment as linesman (the term “assistant referee” hadn’t been coined yet) for the 1975 Irish Junior Cup Final between Enniskillen Rangers and Glebe Swifts played before a huge crowd at Omagh Showgrounds. George says that he never refereed any of the big F&W matches – he was the Appointment Secretary, and he couldn’t appoint himself. Perhaps an even more significant aspect of George’s refereeing career came with the foundation of the Fermanagh and Western Referees’ Association in 1968. George was honoured at their Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations earlier this season for all his work for that organisation. He served in various roles – President, Vice Chairman, Secretary, Appointments Secretary, Committee Member - and acknowledges the part played by Brendan Keogh, Terry Patterson, Willy Clarke and many others in establishing a body which has in many ways taken a lead in refereeing matters throughout Northern Ireland. George has a record of all of the 8700 appointments he made during his time. George refereed until 1978, then took up another important role, that of Referee Assessor, initially as a Junior Assessor then as an Intermediate Assessor, mostly in the Fermanagh and Western and North West George is Life President of the FWRA; he was honoured at the Fiftieth Anniversary celebrations earlier this season for all his work for that organisation; he received the NIRA Chairman’s Award in 1995, and was awarded their first ever Life Membership and became Honorary Vice President; he has been recognised by the Fermanagh Sports Council for his contribution to sport in this area. George in turn acknowledges many others for the amount of work they have done – Terry Patterson, Neville Cathcart, Basil Marshall, to name only three. He is particularly grateful to his wife Irene for her patience and support over all the years of his involvement with refereeing – he even concedes that she made some of the refereeing appointments when he wasn’t available. A conversation about refereeing with George produces the names of a host of luminaries of the International refereeing world. He recalls attending lectures given by Jack Taylor the 1974 World Cup Final Referee: he has worked with Jack Adair, Malcolm Wright and Alan Snoddy: he is a good friend of Malcolm Moffitt. He is, however, most proud the achievements of our local referees in the international field. He was present at Leslie Irvine’s very first match as a schoolboy referee, and gave great support as Leslie made it to the top, refereeing for UEFA and FIFA, all the way to his appointment as referee of the 1995 FIFA U17 World Cup Final in Ecuador. He has followed the careers of his neighbour and nephew Arnold Hunter and all the others from the FWRA in their UEFA appointments and indeed noted that all five of the IFA Cup Finals last season, the Senior Cup Final, the Intermediate Cup Final, the Junior Cup Final, the Youth Cup Final and the Women’s Cup Final, all had FWRA officials. It is due in no small measure to the influence of George Parkinson, one of the “Founding Fathers” of the FWRA, so to speak, which began in a modest way fifty years ago, that this body punches way above its weight in refereeing circles. George’s contribution to refereeing and to football generally in this area, his integrity and his wisdom are worthy of acknowledgment tonight, and so it is more than appropriate that he should receive the Fermanagh and Western League’s Merit Award