It is usually around this time of year that the quality of Fermanagh club football falls under the spotlight. It being Ulster Club season there is an opportunity to assess our clubs against those from other counties.
It usually ends with the depressing conclusion that we are a good bit behind. This year, despite a marvellous win by Derrylin in the first round of the Ulster Intermediate club championship, it is difficult to make an argument that anything has really changed.
Regular readers will know that I have been consistent in saying that our poor record in Ulster Club senior football is down to mentality rather than ability. However the last few years have shaken that belief somewhat. The main reason for this is knowing the effort that Roslea have put into making a breakthrough in Ulster. Five games in five seasons for the Shamrocks has resulted in one win. Those are the cold hard facts and it must be a bitter pill to swallow for a Roslea team who have been a credit to Fermanagh football in terms of their approach to Ulster competition.
Having interviewed practically all of the Roslea team over the past five seasons I know how seriously they took the Ulster club and how desperate they were to make a splash. They also completely believed that they were capable of taking that step up. All that makes it very difficult to argue that it is a Fermanagh inferiority complex that is holding us back at Ulster Senior Club level. Roslea had total belief in themselves yet came up short four out of five times.
So, what is the problem? Are Roslea – or whoever the senior champion happens to be – just not good enough? It is a difficult question. In the case of Roslea I happen to think there are mitigating circumstances holding them back.
Roslea have been out on their own in Fermanagh football for the past five seasons. Four championships and a few league titles for good measure has clearly marked them out as the best about. This season they were the best by some distance. I don’t think they ever had to get out of third gear to win a double. Perhaps that is being unfair to other teams, but at times that is what it looked like. But cruising through your own county can be a poisoned chalice in Ulster and I really don’t think that it helps Roslea in any way.
If we look at the area of midfield for a moment we can see the problem – if we can call it that – Roslea has to deal with. Fermanagh’s current midfield partnership, Richard O’Callaghan and Eoin Donnelly play for division two clubs. In the quarter-finals of the championship, outside of Roslea, only Ederney in the shape of Marty McGrath had a midfielder who had experience playing in that position for Fermanagh in championship football.
Marty O’Brien and Barry Owens both played in midfield for their clubs in the quarter final but neither have done so for the county. And interestingly when Ederney met Roslea in the semi-final McGrath was sent to full back where he did an excellent job on Seamus Quigley. As a result though Roslea dominated at midfield. A case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
What I am saying is that Roslea have it too easy in Fermanagh and it counts against them when they enter the much more competitive Ulster arena.
There are a clutch of three or four teams behind Roslea, (Ederney, Tempo, Devenish, Derrygonnelly, etc.) who have to start to bridge the gap. Having watched these sides quite a bit over the past few years they have the ability to compete and beat Roslea in big games and if they can push the kingpins of Fermanagh football then it will mean that whoever comes out as senior champions will be better equipped to face the challenges ahead.
Just to finish a quick few words on why assessing the quality of Fermanagh club football is a never completely straight forward. We may lack three or four teams of real quality at the top end of the spectrum, but elsewhere we are really improving. Over the past five years few could argue that the second division has become much more competitive and with the recent changes to our championship structures we will have an Intermediate Championship next season that will be the strongest in my living memory. I will go so far as to say that the team who wins our Intermediate championship next season should have serious ambitions about winning an Ulster title.
We may need more teams to improve and really challenge Roslea but overall we have seen a rising of standards further down the pecking order and that can only be a good thing.
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