Belfast Telegraph

Declan Bogue: Fermanagh’s big fight for survival

Some weeks ago, I was approached by Fermanagh goalkeeper Chris Breen to take part in a fundraising White-Collar Boxing night in aid of Fermanagh GAA.

Brawl in Brewster: Yours truly (back row centre) will be |donning the gloves to help raise |much-needed cash for Fermanagh GAA and here I’m joined by organisers and some fellow |competitors

I would get into the ring for the first time ever, and provide entertainment for the general public by getting punched repeatedly. I signed up straightaway.

You see, like many other sportswriters, I have never fully given up on the dream of playing sport at a high level. It's those childhood dreams that leads to a career like sportswriting.

Therefore, mixing it in the gym with a troupe of present and former county footballers, and the opportunity to train towards a target rather than blithely tipping around aimlessly in a gym for the winter months, proved irresistible.

I was also drawn in by the entrepreneurial drive behind what has been named ‘The Brawl in Brewster'.

In previous columns, I have complained about the stress that financing the inter-county game puts upon county boards.

In recent years, the worldwide recession has been felt in the GAA, with massive debts in Mayo and bailouts in Kildare the frightening evidence.

Last year, Fermanagh players were left for months awaiting unpaid expenses. It would never be admitted by a player, but that situation was allowed to corrode spirit and create some feeling of not being appreciated.

The Fermanagh players, along with team management, have put a massive effort into organising and hosting a fundraising weekend, with a country music night on Friday 23rd, boxing on the 24th and bingo on the 25th of November.

It is an example of self-sufficiency, or players accepting responsibility and displaying a massive leap in the maturity of the group that is to be heartily applauded.

Like the Big Issue's tagline, this was a hand-up, not a hand-out. It would engender a sense of goodwill when supporters see that players are willing to forgo their off-season to put themselves through hard training.

Nine days ago at the monthly county board meeting, the motives of the fundraiser were questioned, such as how the money raised was going to be utilised.

It degenerated into one of those typically pointless, rambling county board debates where point-scoring was the main aim.

Meanwhile, those involved in the venture were organising marquees, making phone calls, dreaming up 'wow' factors for the weekend, spending time away from their wives and children.

The 'boxers' were in the gym, up on the bike or pounding the roads, watching what they eat in an effort to give as good an account of themselves as possible.

Being in the middle of the process, what has most impressed has been the professionalism of everyone involved.

The training is handled by Sean Crowley of the Derrylin Boxing Club, and his emphasis on safety, on guarding and defence has been exemplary.

As a true boxer himself, he is not all that taken by the concept of White Collar Boxing. He admits to a smidgen of jealousy that he fought in amateur boxing for years in toilets of venues in front of 'rent-a-crowds'.

Whereas we will saunter into the ring in silk robes to thumping entrance music, in a gleaming marquee that will hold over 1,000 bloodthirsty patrons, for three one-minute rounds.

All of the glory of a big-time contender in a shot at the title, but without having to work our way up through the ranks.

And after it is over, we can walk away happy providing we didn't hit the canvas, safe in the knowledge that you were man enough to enter the ring, that you had the eye of the tiger. Crowley has a point.

Some years ago, Kildare were probably the first county to arrange a boxing night and it proved an enormous success. Since then, clubs all over the country have staged 'Strictly Come Dancing' nights, 'Come Dine With Me' events, and a special mention has to go to Killeavy for their 'Cow-Pat Roulette' last year, where a cow was set loose in a field, marked off in grids with numbers.

Whichever number he/she should choose to take care of business in, would match the ticket number of the winner.

In these days of negative equity, we have to become inventive in the way we fundraise. While we might have lost the wealth so prevalent in the Celtic Tiger days, in some ways we have rediscovered our soul.

Meanwhile, the Fermanagh county board are gearing up for another winter spent trying to convince supporters to donate monies through direct debit for a draw.

How out-of-touch can you be?

Belfast Telegraph

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