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Why Fermagh's Che Cullen has decided to remain in Budapest amid coronavirus crisis

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Working man: Fermanagh ace Che Cullen in Budapest

Working man: Fermanagh ace Che Cullen in Budapest

Che Cullen

Che Cullen

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Working man: Fermanagh ace Che Cullen in Budapest

As all of the inter-county Gaelic footballers and hurlers get to grips with a complete absence of routine and regime, one player finds himself in an entirely unusual position for the next few months.

Fermanagh defender Che Cullen is employed as a programmer for a First Derivatives client in Budapest, Hungary. Only this week, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán introduced a suite of law changes that are set to severely restrict freedom of movement in a bid to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

As a result, the 2018 All-Star nominee has opted to remain in Eastern Europe rather than return home.

"I would rather be in Budapest at the moment," he explained. "I have a good set-up here and for me to work, I need a good WiFi connection. If I went back to Fermanagh, as well as WiFi has come on in Fermanagh, I actually lose my connection.

"In my work, there will be times when it gets a bit stressful where there will be guys on your back and you need a strong connection to get things done."

With Ryanair grounded, Aer Lingus are operating a much-limited service but Cullen said: "If I go back to Ireland, it might be months before I can get back in. So at the minute, I made the decision not to go home."

Among the rules that were signed into law by Hungarian president János Áder, an ally of Orbán, is that he can effectively 'rule by decree'. Those found guilty of spreading misinformation about coronavirus could spend up to five years in prison.

There is significant opposition to the direction Hungarian politics is taking, as Cullen explains.

"Around Christmas time last year, there were massive demonstrations right outside where I live, thousands of people. He brought in a law where companies could make you work 30 hours extra per week, and you wouldn't get paid until 10 years later," he said.

"He loves his football. His home town in Hungary is a tiny town, but you go onto it on Google maps, and his town has one stadium kitted out to the max, top-quality professional soccer pitches, you can see this lush green across his home town."

Budapest being two separate cities of Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River, Cullen lives in the more business and financially-driven Pest, close to his work.

In February, he began to work from home after a flatmate returned back from a ski trip in Italy. Everyone in Hungary had received an email which instructed anyone who had visited Italy in recent weeks, or been in contact with someone who had, to self-isolate for a fortnight.

Therefore, he had to self-isolate himself.

"We did those two weeks of self-isolation, didn't really leave the apartment that much," he explained. "When we got back into work, that's when coronavirus hit off at the start of March. I only got another three days in the office and since then, I have been working from home.

"It's been tough, I'll not lie. We are isolated enough as it is out here. You only have a certain amount of people that you interact with and when you take away going into the office, you would be glad of the odd phonecall from back home.

"You have to be upbeat about it because everybody is in the same situation. If I was back in Ireland, I would be in my parents' house and wouldn't be able to leave that either so that's essentially the same situation as I am in, in Hungary."

Cullen is separated from his mother Mary, a retired schoolteacher, and father Brendan. His twin brother Lee, who also played alongside him with Belnaleck and Fermanagh, is in Australia following similar protocols.

"We are not as far into lockdown as you guys are, where you can't go more than 2km from the house. We can go out to the shop, to exercise," Cullen added.

"Here, only people who are over 60 can come into the stores between 9am and 12pm and then after 12pm, you have a three-hour window to get all your stuff and they close down after 3pm.

"It's really eerie. Big tall buildings and things are just… dead.

"To be honest I don't wear gloves or a mask but I do use hand sanitiser all the time. People here are walking around with gloves and masks."

Cullen had been keeping himself in shape by using the gym at work, and playing soccer for a local side in Budapest.

But with restrictions tightening, neither outlet will be available to him as he seeks to maintain his fitness ahead of a season that, considering the situation, may not even take place.

Belfast Telegraph