Belfast Telegraph

Big-name Fermanagh veterans on a hiding to nothing

By Declan Bogue

Last weekend, Monaghan's Colin Walshe recalled the Ulster Championship campaign of 2010.

Walshe was only a teenager on a team of grizzlies. They had been on the road with Seamus 'Banty' McEnaney for many years and had lived through the horror stories and far-flung delights of Division Four National League football.

Now they were seasoned. They had been around a few corners and had the rug pulled under their feet a few times.

They had Tyrone in the final and thought nothing could surprise them anymore. But they took a tanking.

Set aside the progress of one of those teams and the regression of the other in the four years since, and consider a tale the then Monaghan trainer Martin McElkennon told Walshe in the lead in to the final about Paddy Bradley.

The Derry forward was in the first flush of youth as they reached an Ulster final, losing to Armagh. Never mind, he thought. There will be more.

Only there wasn't. He had a cruciate ligament injury by the time Derry got back to the Ulster final in 2011.

A year later he captained the Derry team that lost to Longford in the qualifiers in Pearse Park. Later that summer he would injure his cruciate again and although he recovered, Derry had moved on.

Little did he know that his career would end in Pearse Park. All players want to finish up in Croke Park, but seldom does that ever happen.

This weekend, Derry and Fermanagh face into the qualifiers. At present, Fermanagh are 11/4 to beat Laois away in Portlaoise. It would appear that Derry have better prospects, 1/7 on to beat Longford.

The end is coming close for Fermanagh. Disheartened by a defeat against Antrim, morale is not what it could have been. Laois are notoriously unyielding at home.

Should they be beaten, it might be hard to envisage another season in green for veterans Barry Owens and Ryan McCluskey, both debuting in 2001.

The first part of their career featured big days in Croke Park, giant-killing acts and All-Star trips. By the time of their fourth season, they had played in Croke Park six times.

Now, it comes down to this. A bus journey to the midlands and on a hiding to nothing. We've said it before, but sport is cruel.

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