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McBurney/Declan Bogue

Pictured Declan Bogue

Date: Thursday 12th April 2012

Location: BT Offices

Credit: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Copyright: Liam McBurney/RAZORPIX

Liam McBurney - RAZORPIX


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Ryan McMenamin is right - it's just absurd that Fermanagh are having to travel to train

Declan Bogue


Deep frustration: Ryan McMenamin has revealed that Fermanagh are struggling to find places to train, while their purpose-built facility sits largely unused

Deep frustration: Ryan McMenamin has revealed that Fermanagh are struggling to find places to train, while their purpose-built facility sits largely unused

�INPHO/James Crombie

Malachy O'Rourke

Malachy O'Rourke

�INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Deep frustration: Ryan McMenamin has revealed that Fermanagh are struggling to find places to train, while their purpose-built facility sits largely unused

There is a passage in Kevin McStay's excellent autobiography The Pressure Game that is worth the price alone for the kind of underrated ribaldry that abounds in rural Ireland.

He paints a scene of being in a perishing Kilbride, late at night after training sessions. One of the final duties for McStay on those evenings was to swing the big, heavy iron gates closed, wrestle with the heavy chains and padlocks, hide the key in a secret place and come back to give it one final shake for luck.

And all the while, his selector Fergie O'Donnell was perched in his car with the window down, waiting for the perfect time to deliver a line he would say for months on end, until the line became the joke itself.

"I wonder how Jim Gavin gets on with the gates in Dublin?" he would say, his shoulders shaking and a big deep laugh brewing.

Roscommon are like so many county teams. They are nomads within their own county. There are no floodlights in Hyde Park so they are having to go around the clubs with the begging bowl out.

The situation that has emerged in Fermanagh, however, is a little more drastic.

Even before a ball was kicked in their 16-point loss to Armagh, something was badly off. The floodlights at Brewster Park were only switched on 10 minutes before the throw-in, so both teams warmed up in almost complete darkness.

Afterwards, manager Ryan McMenamin revealed: "At the minute, only for the goodwill of some clubs in Tyrone, the Fermanagh senior team wouldn't be training."

For the last three weeks, the Ernesiders have not trained on grass, using instead the synthetic surfaces of the Bawnacre Council Leisure Centre in Irvinestown or McMenamin's club, Dromore.

There are numerous factors to all of this. There have barely been a dozen dry days since the team gathered in November, and clubs are reluctant to hand over their pitches - in big demand with underage and senior teams for both genders - while they are in the thick of pre-season themselves.

All of this would be frustrating enough if you ignored the fact that they have a purpose-built facility a few miles outside of Enniskillen.

The pitches at the Lissan complex first had studs cut the turf in the winter of 2004, but it was abandoned after the league.

Since then, it has remained a somewhat pointless exercise, underused and not fit for purpose. For three years when Malachy O'Rourke was in charge, it was kept well and the county teams seldom deviated from there.

However, there has been a marked decline since in pitch maintenance.

Last December, Fermanagh were able to use it just once out of their 10 training sessions. It was once in seven during November.

If you set your foot down in areas of the pitch right now, you would be ankle deep in muck. The pitches have simply not been given the care they have needed, although there is a long overdue plan to redevelop them by master pitch builders Prunty Contracts once the weather makes a turn for the better.

Fermanagh are not unique in this respect. It is curious that an industry that spends just shy of €30m (£26.2m) per annum on preparing inter-county teams can operate like this.

Most counties are a travelling jamboree, the group WhatsApp buzzing with short-notice change of training venues and frustration gnawing at management teams and caterers who are tasked with bringing hot food for afterwards.

On April 16 last year, Fermanagh had to conduct a training session at the Lakeland Forum Leisure Centre in Enniskillen. There are few places more public in their entire county. It's a far-flung cry from the security then manager Rory Gallagher would have experienced with Donegal.

Compare that to the likes of Dublin or Tyrone, who place security guards at the gates of their training venues. When Donegal came to Belfast for a training camp in April 2018, they advertised for security guards to stand watch at the Dub training facilities.

When a county such as Fermanagh have to overcome such obstacles to get a tram prepared to take on the best, you can only imagine how they feel then about being officially classified as second-class citizens by the GAA grading competitions.

The drop from Division Two, a bit like slipping on a wet tile in a shopping centre, could be styled out. You can even make something like that sound like a positive, such as it giving players more of a chance to develop in less demanding environs.

But it's big news this year, because those that go down from Division Two - and considering Fermanagh were in an Ulster final just two summers ago - will be banished to the Tailteann Cup, or the All-Ireland's Tier Two as the name it will never quite shake off.

In that context, McMenamin, a man who won three All-Ireland titles with Tyrone and three county crowns in the ultra-competitive Senior Championship in the Red Hand County, cannot contain his personal distaste for a competition among the also-rans.

And so, he's only answering the questions that are being put to him. He might even drop an F-bomb into his response for emphasis, but it's not like he's doing a Joe Marler or anything. He hasn't done that in years.

But give us authenticity every day of the week. Without that, we would be left with Dublin players telling us they were in the dressing rooms in Omagh, even though the camera says something completely different. I'd prefer the truth, personally.

Belfast Telegraph