Opinion: Can we send an extra medal to Fermanagh?

After peering across the county boundary for a tongue-in-cheek column last week, Fermanagh man DECLAN BOGUE kept one eye on Cavan and shook his head at their deluded hopes for last Sunday. Until it happened...

Was it something I said?

That’s right! On these pages last week, something along the lines of, if Cavan wanted our respect, if they wanted to flip the culture of the media towards the county, they only had to do one thing. Win an Ulster title.

So I’m happy to have played my part. I’m happy that Mickey Graham put his copy of the Celt on the back of the virtual dressing room door and popped it into the team WhatsApp group.

I’m delighted that he told his players to ram it down my big ugly Fermanagh mouth. I don’t want to make it all about me, but look, Mickey started it. And I’d say it’s nothing particularly personal against me, per se. The least he can do is order an extra medal up for me and put my name in the hat for the feed once we all get the Covid jab.

What can we say? There was something brewing in midweek as the game got closer. A feeling in the water. The turf lads had moved into Armagh and were rolling out the red carpet for Breffni Royalty. I wasn’t buying it, despite the best efforts of Anglo-Celt fat cat Paul Fitzpatrick’s best and most persuasive arguments.

I kind of look on Paul Fitz, for all his Newtownbutler connections, as a window into the Cavan soul. The kind of man who needs mothered and pitied but would emerge from a hug with your wallet all the same.

“What age is Neil McGee now?” he asked.

I recently wrote a column that included my assessment of Neil McGee. People like to characterise footballers as ‘piano players’ or ‘piano movers.’ I like to say McGee is the type to manhandle a vintage Steinway through the door frame to burn it in the yard. Just to feel the heat on his hands.

“Do not underestimate McGee,” I responded.

“I’m not,” he shot back, petulantly. “Just saying, don’t be surprised when Cavan rattle this.”

As Sunday drew nearer, the cultural references started. Long tracts of Tom MacIntyre prose, the importance that ‘You Do Not Lower the Colours in the Teeth of the Storm,’ tales of the gallant John Joe.

On the morning itself, Fitzpatrick left his palatial residence and went for a run in the forest. Who did he chance upon on that run, but the celebrated former Cavan player Tom Lynch. We were deep into Páidí ÓSé territory here.

He was so, so close to launching into something or other about The Polo Grounds and The Fairytale in New York. I said nothing, only to text back ‘This Is Our Year.’

“Stranger things have happened,” he said, and I set the phone down to shove more porridge into the mouths of ungrateful babies that I share this living space with. I offered a fond tut and knew he was deep into a world of fantasy.

When we got to the Athletic Grounds, we were greeted with a familiar Sunday sight; Irish Times writer Malachy Clerkin, studiously going about his business a couple of hours before throw-in, crafting his Monday column while keeping a half eye on the score from Cork.

As the end approached and it became clear that Tipperary would win their first provincial title in 85 years, Clerkin developed a deathlike pallor. The column he was busy churning out was being overtaken by events, dear boy.

Whatever it was, it had to be put on the spike as the madness of the Munster final had to be recognised.

As the brains trust of GAA writers in the Athletic Grounds struggled to comprehend things, there was precious little sense that anything similar could happen in our venue.

“We’re in the wrong place, boys,” was all Clerkin would say, to sage nods all round. Especially after Killian Brady was black-carded and Donegal outscored Cavan 0-7 to 0-1 in ten minutes. It was heading for one of those three-point hammerings that Donegal love to hand out.

And then, well sure you know yourself. Chances are you’ve watched the game back 20 times in the hedge pubs and shebeens that have cropped up everywhere from the Blacklion panhandle, across to the Badlands of Mullagh.

My abiding memory will be the big man himself, Fitzpatrick and Cian Mackey, now on duty for BBC Sport, embracing in utter childish, gleeful joy. Professionalism can FRO in that moment. What are we, RTÉ employees or something?

We can only speculate as to how Mackey is now finding his lodgings at Chez Fitzpatrick, given he has to join his bubble now.

I must say I agree with virtually every single thing Oisín McConville says and in catching up with the BBC coverage he was asked to drain the game of emotion in his analysis. He sent Mark Sidebottom sprawling over the sideline with his response that emotion was the crucial element in a win such as this. Ray Galligan’s tears, the frog stuck in Mickey Graham’s throat, was such a welcome antidote to the joyless, businesslike approach adopted by the Dublin team to winning their own province.

Sidebottom went again and asked McConville about what might transpire in the All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park. And McConville again was a rock of sense. Why Croke Park? Why not a neutral venue?

And when you think of it, he’s entirely right. Assumed home advantage for Dublin is one of those accepted archaic bits of nonsense, like The British Monarchy or the game of golf.

100 years ago, the semi-final was in Navan. I’m hereby launching the ‘Navan or Nowhere’ campaign right here, right now.

Join us. Your county needs you.

* Declan Bogue is a native of Tempo, Co Fermanagh. An award-winning author and Gaelic games writer, he regularly contributes to the Irish Independent, Belfast Telegraph and Irish Examiner among other titles and was previously nominated for the Sports Journalist of the Year award. His second favourite county is Cavan.

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