Trillick in union as they bid for county final glory
County final season. Amid all the flags and bunting, the supporters returning from far-flung lands to see the big day out for the parish and the big breakfast fundraisers, two quirky stories concerning pitches of clubs in big finals this weekend went largely unnoticed.
Tyrone club Trillick, hard on the Fermanagh border, are back in their first decider since 2015 when they face Errigal Ciaran tomorrow in Omagh.
Last week, the club also had a significant victory in the offices of the Fermanagh and Omagh District Council Planning section. In June, they made a significant application for a full-sized pitch complete with dugouts, floodlights, fencing, ball nets, paths and groundworks.
The Chair of the Planning Committee is Mary Garrity of the SDLP and, as mother of two players who could feature tomorrow, she declared her interest and stepped out of the process.
After listening to the details at the decisive meeting, UUP Councillor Alan Rainey proposed its adoption. The plan was seconded by Councillor Errol Thompson of the DUP, who delivered his line with a flourish: "I would have pleasure in seconding the recommendation."
Think about that for a second. A rural GAA club showing massive ambition, not only helped by two Unionist politicians, but indeed relishing the prospect.
"There would be people within Trillick and the community in Trillick, including DUP, Ulster Unionists, Sinn Fein and so on, it is a very harmonious area and, thank God, we are one of the lucky ones. The Protestant band would open the Fleadh in Trillick, for example, when we had it," explains Garrity who was particularly pleased to see the application meeting with the approval it did.
"It's my favourite committee of the council. People would argue it is not meant to be political whatsoever.
"And we often have to make decisions, ones that could make you very unpopular in different corners of the world.
"I have to make sure I don't put up just what I want, unless I can stand over it in terms of policy."
She adds: "We are in the county final and every person, regardless of what side of the community they are from, will be behind the village.
"There was a nod to that, and especially when the DUP said they would be delighted, why did he say he was delighted? Because he knows it is a club that is well run, I believe. We have cross-community participants in it, it makes no difference for anyone. Without blowing our own trumpet, if everyone had that kind of ethos, it would thrive even more.
"We have had our own troubles in the past that people would find hard to get over in both sides of the community.
"But we have a lotto in our club and I go down to a 'Protestant pub', if I could be as vulgar. I go in to lift tickets there and people in the bar will buy tickets."
If it's all good news in Trillick, things are different in Monaghan club Magheracloone, who are in the intermediate final this weekend against Donaghmoyne.
Just over a year ago, their club grounds, pitch and changing rooms were literally torn apart after a disused gypsum mine collapsed. It opened up chasms all around their grounds and split the changing rooms. The sinkhole was found to be down to several mining pillars collapsing.
At nearby Drumgossatt National School, almost 100 children had to be evacuated as the chasms appeared on their premises.
Some time later, the senior team lost their senior status for the first time since going up in 1997.
But as club chairman Francie Jones points out, it could always be worse.
"It's well documented that on the Saturday, the day before this happened, we had 200 plus kids on that field and the community centre at a blitz. It doesn't bear thinking about that," he explains.
Nothing could be repaired, but Magheracloone did have the fortune of sorts to be on the fringes of neighbouring Louth and Cavan to benefit from their generosity when it came to borrowing facilities.
They sorted themselves out with a temporary training ground. When they are due to host games, they go around the houses a bit, but the most common venue is that of Annaghminnon Rovers of Louth, just outside Ardee.
"All the neighbouring clubs have been generous. Monaghan, Cavan, Louth, we are on the border here with three counties and all the clubs have offered their services to us," says Jones.
But there is simply no repairing their facilities that were lovingly tended and kept, just like any other GAA grounds around the country.
"I dunno. Nobody knows what the manual is on that," laments Jones.
"Losing our pitch and being relegated from senior football, we were senior since 1997 and we were relegated last year. It was a double whammy.
"Ah, the club, all the members, they have been galvanised since. Everyone put their shoulder to the wheel and we are back in a Championship final and hope to get back to senior again - it would be a step in the recovery.
"There's no fixing it. The club ground is actually demolished at the minute, for safety reasons. It's completely levelled. We are in negotiations now to get new facilities built."
In January, they got approval to get their training pitch sorted out. That didn't take long, but still they had to rely on the generosity of others to keep the club going.
"It puts a strain on you, we have had a tough year. But listen, everyone is gelling together and pulling together. We are all looking forward. You cannot look back and what is forgotten in this - nobody got hurt," adds Jones.
When they gather in Inniskeen tomorrow for the final however, it will be a day in the sun for the hard-pressed club. One that the deserve for all the hardship they have gone through.
And who could deny them that?