Belfast Telegraph

Antrim and Fermanagh: a fanciful tale of two counties?

By Declan Bogue

This week, county executives of Antrim and Fermanagh are endeavouring to find a mug – sorry, manager – who might take on the role of senior county football coach.

A lot of time, sandwiches, stewed coffee, fake sincerity, stifled yawns. These processes are the same all over the country though.

Candidate: "Do you have a projector?"

Committee man: "I'm sure there's one about here somewhere. It was here when we met the other fella last night. Do you really need it? Can we not do this without one? Have another sandwich there. They're paid for."

There will be a professional facade, but while some struggle through the interview process, they come alive in the crucial part of the evening – The Meeting After The Meeting.

This is where the juice is. Once a respectable time has elapsed after a candidate has left, a few officials will hang back, giving the impression there are a range of other house-keeping matters to be attended to. They might give it 30 seconds before they resume conclave.

They pile into someone's Merc. It is widely believed that the world record for fitting fully-grown men into a saloon-sized car has been broken many times after GAA meetings, but such is the secrecy of such ventures that verification is impossible.

It is in this environment, with the windows steaming up, amid sideways glances and nudges and elbows and raised eyebrows, that most decisions are truly made in the GAA.

I am not part of such a group, but if I were, I know what I would say.

"It's only a suggestion ... " I begin enigmatically, before laying out my manifesto.

"Fermanagh are struggling. Antrim are struggling. Together, we can be something else. We can be heroes. From strength comes unity, and so I say to you, join us, brothers and sisters ... "

I pause for the sake of drama.

"Join us, and unite behind the cause. Let us be more powerful, let us combine. I give to you ...

"Team FearmAontroim!"

At this point, I whip out a flipchart concealed under the passenger seat. The 13 other men in the car are intrigued and/or puzzled.

On the flipchart is a mock-up of a new team kit. Green and saffron hoops. It looks pretty fly. Above it is the mission statement: 'One County. One Vision. FearmAontroim.' Beneath it is a Twitter tag, because that's the new, new thing – #YOLO.

I explain to some disgruntled executive members that it stands for 'You Only Live Once'.

Of course, some are unconvinced, but then I begin to rattle out the benefits like machine-gun fire.

As Casement Park is out of commission, we will play all home games in Brewster Park. This will find favour with Antrim fans who will benefit from the clear air and may even lead to the re-establishment of a railway line connecting Belfast and Enniskillen.

We can retain an 'east and west' format for domestic competitions, but have an extended play-off season for the top tournaments, therefore guaranteeing bigger attendances and gate receipts.

We could have Rory and Ronan Gallagher to work as 'Cultural Fusion Integration Officers.' Having played with St Gall's and Fermanagh, they could explain the lingo, the deathly-slow pace of Fermanaghspeak, and how 'Headers and Volleys' is an acceptable form of warm-up for FearmAontroim.

Come the first round of the 2014 Ulster Championship, which would have been contested between Fermanagh and Antrim, we can now host a light-hearted challenge match between the players from east and west of Ulster, chuckling at the by-now antiquity and old-fashionedness idea of having two separate counties, 'back in the day.'

No matter what happens, FearmAontroim fans will get to sup from the sweet chalice of victory that evening.

I am rebuked. To go along with my pros, they tell me, there are cons.

"Mileage will be a pure head-melter."

"See all those tickets for All-Ireland finals and the rubber chicken circuit? Our allocation would be slashed!"

And then I hit them with the clincher.

"You see all those stories exposing incompetence over managerial performances, PR gaffes, in-fighting, player strikes, non-payment of expenses and coaching neglect? Overnight, they will be halved."

Gasps. Audible gasps. The argument is won.

The car sits ticking over. The headlights offer a view of the darkness beyond. The time has come to do something, and so the motion is passed.

The only thing left to do? Pick a manager.

I suggest that we go with a former great player, someone to instantly create a buzz around a team with a new identity. Someone who could reach both Belfast and Enniskillen for an evening and be home before midnight.

Step forward the new manager of FearmAontroim, the team of the 2010s; Peter Canavan.

The die is cast. Get to the bookies right away.

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