Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Ulster teams put celebrations on ice as thrilling season draws to a close

The most popular remark in Brewster Park on Sunday was "raw", used as a description for the weather. The wind-chill factor had left it an incredibly inhospitable place to watch football.

Once Fermanagh got to grips with a strong wind on their backs they were able to drill over seven unanswered points and march towards victory.

Afterwards, one player who had performed impressively for the 70-odd minutes stood on the pitch granting interviews.

Goosebumps on his legs gave them the complexion of the rubber dimple surface on table tennis bats. His teeth lightly chattered as he told us he never wore underarmour tops usually, but he needed one today.

Even after 70 minutes of inter-county exertion, he still wasn't warm. That's how cold it was, but still, victory for Fermanagh had levered them back into pole position in the league.

Around about the same time, Monaghan were trudging off Dr Hyde Park after defeat to Roscommon had knocked them off their lofty perch. One substitute earlier this week described coming onto the field and dragging two blocks of ice around where his feet used to be.

He could see the tide turning against his team from early in the second half and knew it was one of those league days when he was on a hiding to nothing. Not a game that will receive many re-runs in his mind's eye.

It was the penultimate round of the National League and conditions were perishing.

In Belfast, the Antrim game against Meath was called off. Naturally, Antrim are keen to address a dreadful performance against Roscommon and their re-scheduled game against the Royals takes on a world of meaning for this division.

Should Antrim win they restore a bit of pride. They would also inadvertently secure a second successive promotion for Peter Canavan and his Fermanagh team.

Three weeks before, they visited Casement Park and there was nothing to separate the two teams at the final whistle.

Fermanagh then went on to lose to Monaghan, along with losing four players in a week through broken bones, before grinding out a win away to Cavan.

In the meantime, Antrim went into freefall, drawing with Wicklow and losing to Roscommon. We've said this before, but that's how tight league football can be. With four Ulster teams at this level, it was always going to be one to keep an eye out for.

Antrim's promotion hopes are now gone, but they could have a massive say in the final reckoning with Meath coming to Casement Park and then a final day trip away to Monaghan.

Fermanagh and Monaghan both cite each other as the best teams they have faced in the league so far, but the Ernemen's last game will be in front of a bumper crowd in Navan.

Division Three has been compelling this season, but the finale is set to be exhilarating.

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