Belfast Telegraph

Ulster Championship Final: Erne-ing for glory - Fermanagh on the brink of greatness

By Lauren Harte in Enniskillen

The thousands of Fermanagh fans making the journey to Clones this afternoon know their GAA team is on the brink of something very special.

A mere 70 minutes on this date with destiny will decide if Rory Gallagher's men can lift their first ever Anglo-Celt trophy as they prepare to do battle with neighbouring Donegal.

In towns and villages across the county this past week, the pride in this team who are determined to make history has been hard to miss. Locals have been out in force on cherry-pickers, decking out homes and businesses with green and white banners and flags. Painted cars and tractors in the Erne colours also greet those travelling through the county from Belleek on the Donegal border down to Belcoo near Cavan.

GAA fever has certainly gripped the Erne county, with team jerseys flying off the shelves at O'Neill's sports shop in Enniskillen which has been under siege by fans all week. On Friday, pupils and staff at schools across the county sent video messages of support to the team as they hosted 'Wear the Fermanagh Colours' events.

So historic is this match that it has prompted DUP leader Arlene Foster to lend her support to the team. Her post-training session visit to county board officials and players with a good luck card last weekend, where she received a team jersey in return, went down well.

Mrs Foster has yet to reveal if she will cross the border to Monaghan this afternoon to watch her first Ulster Final, with both the DUP and GAA tight-lipped on the matter. Indications grew last night that she will attend but won't announce her decision until today for security reasons.

She said yesterday: "I've been pleased to offer my support to Fermanagh GAA ahead of their Ulster Final meeting with Donegal. I haven't been able to offer the team much by way of tactics or advice for the match but it was a pleasure to meet them and receive a Fermanagh shirt last weekend.

"The Ulster Final is a very significant occasion for Fermanagh and I know there is goodwill across the county for them".

Although he no longer lives in Enniskillen, Fr Brian D'Arcy remains Fermanagh GAA's biggest fan. The popular priest travels to every match and stars in a song specially written for his beloved team's appearance in the Ulster Final.

Fr Brian believes that Arlene Foster's gesture towards her local GAA team was "a very good thing to do".

He adds: "I'm so delighted that she has taken pride in what the gaelic team is doing. She is just being a normal Fermanagh woman and it would be lovely to see her at Clones on Sunday but we will understand if she can't."

The 73-year-old is praying his football dreams become reality later today. "I would die very happy, if Fermanagh were to win an Ulster Championship," he said.

His friend, Enniskillen-based country music star Nathan Carter, is also backing Rory's boys. He said as he walked through the county town in recent days, the big game is "all that anyone is talking about".

Retired Ulster and Ireland player Stephen Ferris also sent a video message to the team on Twitter, saying: "Come on Fermanagh. Let's go!"

Quest for first victory in 130 years

÷ The Ulster Senior Football Championship was first contested 130 years ago.

÷ Only five times previously in GAA history have the Erne men graced an Ulster Final.

÷ Fermanagh's previous Ulster final appearances were in 1914, 1935, 1945, 1982 and 2008.

÷ Fermanagh and Wicklow are the only counties in Ireland not to have won a provincial title.

÷ Donegal are seeking to take the Ulster title for the ninth time.

÷ Five sets of brothers will be among the Fermanagh panel lining up at this afternoon's match.

÷ The average age of the Fermanagh players is 25 - they weigh on average 12st 5lb and measure up at 5ft 9.2in.

÷ Today will be David Gough's first time refereeing Fermanagh.

÷ Fermanagh and Donegal have met seven times in the past 10 years but today they meet in the Ulster Final for the first time.

÷ Today's winners will advance to the All-Ireland quarter-finals, where their opponents will be either Dublin or Laois.

÷ Around 28,000 supporters are expected at St Tiernach's Park in Clones for this afternoon's final.

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