Fermanagh haven’t lost a championship game in MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey, since 1963! Statistics, however, can be skewed as the sides didn’t meet at the venue between ‘63 and 2000.
But when the Maguire men come to town on Sunday next (2 p.m.) for the last of the Ulster Championship quarter-finals, they will pointing to recent history, winning in 2000 and drawing in 2001 before winning the replay back in Enniskillen.
Peter McGrath’s charges, with a win over Antrim under their belts, still come as rank outsiders (5/1) but they still fancy upsetting a Donegal team that they feel may be on a downward curve.
Here in Donegal we just don’t know what to expect. Training, we are told, has been exceptionally tough since the league semi-final exit to Dublin, but we’re also told that, Neil Gallagher apart, we have an injury free panel.
But, as we all know, what we are told and what are the facts can be some miles apart. News of anyone struggling to make the starting team or match-day panel are usually kept quiet. Hamstrings have been stretched to the limit and some even beyond.
Back in the day, one of the great memories of going to games in Finn Park was the smell of Wintergreen as the players emerged from the dressing rooms. Whatever is being used nowadays doesn’t have the same odour, but you can be sure that players will be anxious until they get warmed up and primed for action.
Most pundits feel it will be a cagey contest with much emphasis on defence. With freetakers of the calibre of Tómas Corrigan/Sean Quigley and Michael Murphy/Patrick McBrearty, care in the tackling will be vital.
Maurice Deegan is an experienced referee and while there was criticism of Conor Lane last week in the Monaghan/Down game, getting a referee from outside the province is a good policy.
Fermanagh supporters will travel in big numbers with rising expectation that the glory days of 2004 could again return. It’s interesting to note in quotes by Tómas Corrigan and Eoin Donnelly elsewhere in this edition, that their target is an Ulster title.
Donegal’s immediate ambition is much the same. For Rory Gallagher, it is an interesting contest against his home county, but while that doesn’t register outwardly, it has to be a factor.
Both sides will be out again on weekend of 25/26th June; the losers will have to travel to Wexford in the qualifiers; the winners face Monaghan on the 25th June.
Donegal have it in their own hands which journey they will make!
SEE PAGES 33-40 FOR FULL PREVIEW OF BIG GAME