Belfast Telegraph

Neutral to overdrive in five minutes sums up game's pull

By Declan Bogue

Apart from making myself and everyone else in this game fabulously wealthy, the trade of sports writing provides you with ringside tickets to the big show.

The payoff is how you affect the studied indifference of the dispassionate observer. Celebrating a score is a social faux-pas. Wearing the colours of a team is a huge no-no. Nobody wants to commit the sin of being the 'fan with a typewriter'.

An extreme example was a venerated sports writer who, after a dramatic finale to a trophy decider involving 'his team', lost himself to reverie. To the amusement of his colleagues on the sports desk, he was pictured chairing the winning captain off the field.

Last weekend, I took emotion out of the equation by reporting on the Tyrone game on Saturday and attending the next day's Fermanagh match as a fan. Oh yes, I might not have mentioned it before, but I am from that fair county.

I could moan and mutter curses under my breath. Then later whoop and holler and skin my knuckles thumping the corrugated roof of the press box as my team staged a most unlikely comeback to beat Roscommon with six points in the last five minutes. It prompted unforgettable scenes as supporters piled onto the pitch to greet their heroes and pose for selfies in the sunshine.

Everywhere you looked, people stood gobsmacked by events, big smiles plastered across their faces. For a few hours, a contagious, positive energy flowed around the ground and lingered throughout the evening.

Each person had their own highlights reel playing in their head. Sean Quigley's penalty and winner featured heavily, but the crowning moment had to be Tomás Corrigan's pointed sideline kick. That skill is meant to be the preserve of the Gods of the game.

In the pressbox, BBC commentator and current Chairman of Club Eirne, the county fundraising committee, Ger Treacy, lost his voice and was on the verge of tears.

For me, there was a moment just before it when no less than 15 men were in a confined space fighting for that ball, Fermanagh putting the same high-court press on Roscommon that Tyrone inflicted on Kerry in the 2003 All-Ireland semi-final, before it spilled over the sideline for Corrigan's attempt.

A friend watching it on the far sideline thought it was a row, but it was blue-collar, ferocious stuff that made the heart race. No wonder Fermanagh hero Marty O'Brien admitted afterwards his mind was in such a spin that he could not add the three points for a goal onto their points tally to figure out who was in the lead.

Ryan McCluskey was in the same state, saying to himself at the final whistle: "Oh no, another 20 minutes of this!"

There is a likeability to this Fermanagh team that other counties are unwilling to embrace or show to the public. Media access has become so tortured nowadays that everyone - players, supporters and media - ultimately lose out in the pursuit of what certain managers mistakenly convince themselves is 'control' of affairs.

After speaking with his fiancée Aoife and seeing his little girl Maggie after Sunday's game, O'Brien gave an interview. As some of his friends from Garrison walked by he leaned into the dictaphone to act the goat, saying: "Well yes, I would have to agree with you there, I would be one of the top three players in Ulster right now."

And you think of how honourable and thoughtful a man like Pete McGrath is, refusing to play the big 'I am' when other managers crave it, instead dedicating the victory to young Oisín McGrath, the Belcoo youngster and Fermanagh fanatic who died tragically in February.

The journalist Paul Kimmage detests any sort of cosy practice or fraternising between press and sportsmen, and it's entirely understandable given his experiences. But the GAA is simply different.

You know these people, their parents, their connections.

My first real grown-up gig was when I was 16 with the local Youth Club to the Ulster Hall to see The Beautiful South, with The Lightning Seeds in support. Our club leader was Brian Treacy, Fermanagh's current defensive coach. The strength and conditioning coach, Leon Carters, and sub Darren McQuaid were in my sister's class at primary school

I can remember a P7 hurling blitz in Brewster Park playing against Enniskillen when we were all mesmerised by this wonderkid two years younger, with shinpads to protect his matchstick legs, who they called 'Clucker'...Ryan McCluskey, now the Fermanagh centre-back.

As the Tempo Maguires under-21 manager, I once refused to let Aidan Breen go out and play with a pair of boots that had only two remaining studs on a quagmire of a pitch and gave him my own instead.

Some day, when he is asked about influential managers, I expect to get a mention!

How do you disconnect yourself from all that?

Belfast Telegraph


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