The Fermanagh & Western Football League’s ‘Hall Of Fame’ was established in 2011 to acknowledge and celebrate the huge contributions made to our Sport by so many people since the establishment of the League in the early twentieth century and it was most fitting that three of the League’s most distinguished historic figures – Joseph P Gillan, Harry Mercer and William Connor – were inducted into the Hall Of Fame together with immediate past League Chairman Sammy McFrederick at the League’s fourth Hall Of Fame Dinner which was held in The Killyhevlin Hotel’s Riverside Suite on Friday 27th February.

 

A record number of sixty nine invited guests were present to witness their induction and the unveiling of the League’s Hall Of Fame Board which will henceforth be on permanent and public display in the Bawnacre Centre.

Once again the Dinner was a spectacular success and a memorable occasion for all who were there but especially for Harry Mercer’s grandson Steven and his wife Louise and those Members of the McFrederick Family who were in attendance.

The following are the orations given by Roy Cathcart, Chairman of the Fermanagh & Western Football Association and Gerard Connolly, Secretary of the Fermanagh & Western Football League, at the Dinner:

The name of Mercer is familiar to all followers of the Fermanagh and Western Football League, as each year the League Champions are presented with the Mercer Cup, and indeed older fans still refer to the competition as the Mercer League. Mercer’s Jewellers are, of course, still trading in Enniskillen, and the name of TA Mercer is inscribed on the front of the famous old trophy.

TA Mercer’s son Harry was almost certainly responsible for persuading the family firm to present the trophy in 1905 and he deserves to be remembered as much for that as for his prodigious football feats. His fame was assured when he became the first footballer from Fermanagh to be capped for Ireland after getting his football education in the county.

Harry Mercer was a founding member of Enniskillen Corinthians and their first Secretary when the Fermanagh and South Tyrone League (later to become the Fermanagh and Western) was formed in 1904.

Though he was only seventeen years old, newspaper reports record his scoring feats with the Corinthians “as the foremost centre forward in the district” and indeed his sporting prowess at athletics and hockey so it was no surprise when he swapped one blue shirt for another by signing for Linfield in 1906. When he left Enniskillen to work and study in the banking profession in Londonderry, a special social evening and dance were held in his honour in the Town Hall, and Viscount Corry, President of Corinthians, presented Mercer with a handsome gold medal, suitably engraved. (A replica of this medal is nowadays awarded to the players of Mercer Cup winning teams.)

Harry Mercer played for in three consecutive title winning sides with Linfield. He made his debut as a 19 year-old outside right in September 1906 and in his first campaign scored twelve times in 25 appearances, to claim a first Irish League medal as well as a County Antrim Shield medal.

As Mercer was an amateur, and could not receive payment, Linfield could not pay him for his services; instead, after an Irish Cup semi-final in Dublin in February 1907, he was presented with a “beautiful gold watch bearing on the outer case the initials of the recipient and a suitable inscription inside . . . the chairman referred in eulogistic terms to the many sterling qualities of Mr Mercer . . . he was a favourite with the Linfield officials, players and supporters . . . since Mr Mercer joined the club Linfield had lost only one match.”

His good form continued through 1907/08 when he scored ten goals in 26 appearances, as Linfield retained the League and the Co Antrim Shield, and also won the City Cup.

In February 1908, he won his Ireland cap, playing at centre forward against England before a crowd of 22,000 at Solitude.

The 1908/09 season, in which he completed his hat trick of titles, proved to be Mercer's last with Linfield. It began with selection at right-half for the Irish League against the Football League in September. In November he played outside-right for the Irish Amateur team in a 5-1 defeat by England at Dalymount Park, thus becoming the first Linfield player to win Amateur international recognition.

Although he did make a few appearances for Derry Celtic in 1910/11, Mercer’s first class career virtually ended at the young age of twenty-three when he was appointed to the post of Manager with his bank in Londonderry, and thus was unavailable due to Saturday opening.  He occasionally returned to Enniskillen to guest for Corinthians in some of their Boxing Day or St Patrick’s Day friendlies.

In his later years, Harry Mercer made regular visits to his home town, often with his young son Henry, who remembered walking through the town and making very slow progress because so many people wanted to stop and chat. He would take Henry to the Broadmeadow occasionally to see Corinthians, and they made regular visits to Windsor Park where he was still welcomed warmly.

When Enniskillen Corinthians won the IFA Junior Cup in 1958, more than fifty years after Harry Mercer had played for them, he was a guest of honour at their Celebratory Banquet.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr Henry Mercer before he died a few years ago – indeed Gordon Lee and I took him to a Northern Ireland International match at Windsor Park, his first visit in many years. Mr Mercer was very moved that someone was still interested in his father’s exploits after all this times, and I was very humbled when he and his son Stephen ensured that his memorabilia has come back to Fermanagh.  I have taken charge of these wonderful items on behalf of the Association, and it is my intention to pass them on to the Fermanagh County Museum, as Mr Mercer wished.

Harry Mercer was a local, national and international hero when Fermanagh was much more remote in a football context than it is now. The careers of our current crop of internationals are commendable, but Harry Mercer’s achievements a century ago are even more remarkable, and make him an eminently suitable inductee to the Hall of Fame.

Joseph Patrick Gillin was born between the bridges in 1880, and attended the Model School. (There is, incidentally, some confusion over the proper spelling of his name: both variations of his surname are used indiscriminately in the press and in Gillin’s own advertising material.) He was proprietor of the Athletic Bar in Darling Street, and his mother ran a House Furnishing Shop and Undertakers in Townhall Street.

In the early part of his footballing life appeared in goal for St Michael’s Hall Celtic, usually known as Enniskillen Celtic, though it is as an administrator and organizer that he made his mark.

An article in The Fermanagh Times in May 1903 covering the supper at an Enniskillen Celtic Dance in the Townhall says that “this department, being in the capable hands of Mr Joe Gillen, left nothing to be desired.”

In 1903 he was club chairman, and Celtic had their greatest season in 1905 when they won the inaugural Mercer Cup, the Wilde Charity Cup, and best of all the prestigious North West FA Junior Cup.

Joe Gillen was appointed Secretary of the League in May 1906 and remained in that position until the advent of the Great War.

Despite his relative youth, he had a major influence on the direction which the then Fermanagh and South Tyrone League took.  In September 1906, Gillin and Treasurer George Ford attended the IFA AGM and secured a grant of £50 to help development. The following year, Gillin and Forde represented the League to prevent its assimilation into the North West FA, and persuaded the parent body to create a new Divisional association, the Fermanagh and Western, with a remit as far as Galway, Mayo and Roscommon.

Gillin also secured a number of prestigious matches for the new Divisional Association.  The Junior Cup Final of 1908, between Willowfield and Glenavon Reserves was played before a huge crowd, paying sixpence each, at Celtic Park., and the following year the semi-final, and the semi-final replay, of the Intermediate Cup between Glentoran II and Sligo St Mary’s were also held at Celtic Park.

Gillin’s greatest coup, and maybe it was publicity stunt, was when he secured the services of the best-known referee of the time, the Scot, Tom Robinson, known as the King of the Referees, for the Mulhern Cup Final of 1909. Robinson had refereed many Cup Finals and Internationals, including the match where Harry Mercer won his cap, and it is reported that hundreds turned up to see him rather than the two teams, Enniskillen Celtic and Sligo St Mary’s. When Robinson died some twenty years later, the Impartial Reporter carried his obituary, and remarked that the 1909 Mulhern Cup Final was still remembered for Robinson’s appearance.

Gillin’s influence in IFA circles is perhaps best illustrated by his appointment as Linesman for the England-Ireland International of 1909, played at Valley Parade, Bradford.  In those days, the role of the touch judge was large an honorary one, rather than an active one, similar to rugby until relatively recently, and Gillin was presented with his linesman’s flag, which is on display at Ferney Park at present.

At the 1909 Fermanagh and Western AGM, the Chairman, Mr Charlton, in proposing the re-election of Gillen as Secretary said that he did not know what they would do without Mr Gillin, not only as Secretary, but representing the Association at the IFA, and attending the sittings of the Rough Play Committee.

In 1910, the Junior Cup Final was again played in Enniskillen, when Derry Guilds met Belfast Celtic Strollers at Celtic Park.

Organised football was suspended for the duration of the Great War, by which time Joseph Gillin had entered the world of local politics, and by the time it resumed in 1919, Gillin focused his energies in that direction. As Chairman of Enniskillen Urban District Council, “he achieved universal acclaim for his wise management of urban affairs and his deep and abiding interest in the welfare of the ratepayers.  He presided with dignity and ability at Council Meetings and was respected alike by his political friends and at Council Meetings and was respected alike by his political friends and opponents, for while he remained a staunch Nationalist, he distributed as Chairman even handed justice and fair play.

These last words appear in his obituary in the Fermanagh Herald.  Joe Gillin died unexpectedly in 1939 at the age of 59, and the Herald further reports that “the numerical proportions and representative capacity of the funeral cortege was in itself a high tribute.”  On his coffin was a beautiful wreath from the IFA.

Joe Gillin’s contribution to the birth and infancy of the Fermanagh and Western cannot be overestimated, and he is more than worthy of inclusion in The Hall of Fame.

William ‘Billy’ Connor served as Chairman of the Fermanagh and Western FA for thirteen years from the early sixties until the mid-seventies, and during that time he also served on the IFA Senior Council for nine years. He was also a well respected Referee in all levels of local football during this period.

At club level, he had a long association with Enniskillen Corinthians and was club Secretary for many years, most notably at that club’s finest moment, the season they became the first club from the Fermanagh and Western to win the Irish Junior Cup.  In the 1958 Final, the Corinthians defeated Derry side Clooney Rovers by 2-1 at Shamrock Park, Portadown.

Billy was born in Carrickfergus in 1907, and came to Enniskillen in 1934 to be foreman of Irvine’s Butcher’s shop in Townhall Street. His association with Corinthians began soon after and he was also captain of Enniskillen Boys Brigade from 1948 to 1964.  He was also well known locally for playing in a dance band. Later he was appointed foreman at Enniskillen Abattoir, then in 1963, he moved from Enniskillen to Omagh as Manager of Ulster Meat Processors. While living there he helped to found Cappagh Spurs, the Women’s team.

Billy Connor emigrated to Queensland, Australia in 1974 to live with his daughters, but his contribution to football, or soccer as it must be referred to in Australia, did not stop.  He coached and administered youth teams and was instrumental in setting up the Gold Coast Women’s Football Association.

Indeed, in a tribute to William Connor at a function in his honour for his service to soccer in the Gold Coast, the secretary WJ Taylor spoke about the respect and deep appreciation for all Billy Connor’s time and effort expended over eight years and for having the foresight and courage to form the Gold Coast and District Women’s Soccer Association and also for his dedication to soccer as a whole.  He concluded, “Bill Connor, we are all much richer for having you amongst us.”

Billy Connor died in Australia in 1989, aged 81, shortly before the Mulhern Cup Final of that year, and his successor as Chairman, Enda Love, paid tribute to his service in the match programme, and held a minute’s silence before the start of the match. Billy Connor was buried in his IFA jumper and tie.

Sammy McFrederick is a man whose contribution to Football on and off the field has been of immense significance and that contribution is recognised here tonight as he becomes the latest personality to be inducted into the League’s Hall Of Fame.

No figure in the history of Lisbellaw United FC has given greater service to the Club than Sammy and very few come even near to matching his contribution which has spanned over half a century.

Sammy had a playing career marked by historic exploits and he was for a long time a familiar figure in the Club colours. Although his name has been synonymous with the Village side throughout most of his life his ability and considerable potential as a goalkeeper was such that he played for Larne and Ballymena United before playing with Derry City prior to their withdrawal from the Irish League.

Sammy returned to play with his home Club and soon succeeded Jim O’Donnell as Manager. He concentrated on local talent as he assembled a young side and over the next decade he managed Lisbellaw United to a level of success without precedent in the history of the Club.

During this period the Village side won 5 Mercer League titles (1975/76, 1977/78, 1978/79, 1979/80 and 1980/81) and were Mulhern Cup Winners on 5 occasions (1976, 1977, 1979, 1980 and 1983).

The culmination of this period of dominance came on 12th May 1978 when his charges became only the second Fermanagh & Western Club to win Junior Football’s Blue Riband Trophy – the Irish Junior Cup – after being losing Semi-Finalists in 1974 and 1977. Anyone who saw this legendary side will readily testify to the quality of the football they played and the unquenchable spirit they revealed which were a tremendous tribute to the manner in which they had been coached by Sammy.

Sammy remained on hand to keep Lisbellaw United at the forefront of the game locally and even though subsequent years were not the most productive or successful for the Club his dedication to Lisbellaw United never for a moment faltered. In 1990 he was a key figure, together with Tony Dunn, Ken Forde, Bobby Taylor and Dick Thompson, in the purchase and development of the ground at Drumad for the then not inconsiderable sum  of  £18,000.   He  was  also  heavily  involved  in  the  subsequent construction of the adjacent Dressing Rooms Complex.

As Sammy’s on field activities decreased his off field activities increased at Club, Regional and National level. He served Lisbellaw United in various capacities (League Representative, Secretary, Chairman and President) and while he was a towering figure in the Club he never shirked the mundane tasks.

Sammy rose speedily through the ranks at Regional level and was appointed as Disciplinary Secretary of the Fermanagh & Western Football Association in the late 1980s – a position he held for in excess of a quarter of a century prior to his displacement last year.

Sammy was a Member of the Irish Football Association’s Junior Committee for a number of years before stating local Football’s case in his own inimitable manner in 20 Windsor Avenue as a Member of the Irish Football Association’s Senior Council on which he served with such effect and distinction for 20+ years – a level of service matched only by a few.

Sammy also served as the Fermanagh & Western Football Association’s Representative on the Irish Football Association’s Disciplinary Committee for nigh on 2 decades.

Sammy succeeded Bob Nesbitt as Vice-Chairman of the Fermanagh & Western Football League in 2003 and acceded to the Chairmanship on the death of Enda Love some fourteen months later. In the ensuing seven years Sammy gave impeccable service to the League in the role and his common sense approach to the various challenges that arose from time to time were obvious to all. Sammy was a diligent, supportive and wholly committed Chairman and his experience and wise counsel were invaluable. He always did what he said he would do and he did things in a most conscientious manner.

The above information clearly demonstrates that Sammy has had very distinguished playing, managerial and administrative careers and has served Football extremely well. His pedigree stands up to the most minute examination. His input is well worthy of recognition here tonight - something that is much appreciated and recognised by his peers but perhaps at times not recognised or appreciated by the less well informed.

Today one never goes to Drumad without encountering him. Invariably the greeting is fulsome in keeping with the true warmth of his personality. Tonight it is my privilege to greet Sammy and welcome him into the League’s Hall Of Fame.