Fermanagh united behind Ernemen in quest for first Ulster final win
FERMANAGH and Donegal may be the best 'frenemies' ever to square up in an Ulster final, but as Bimpe Archer discovers, it will be a case of 'county before chums' on Sunday.
NOWHERE is Ireland's soft border more porous than between Fermanagh and Donegal.
Mere seconds after a road sign indicates you are in Belleek, a gable wall appears with a bold green and yellow cursive script bidding you a warm `Welcome to Donegal'.
Even the PSNI has been caught out by the invisible boundary, with two officers, oblivious to the fact they were in the wrong jurisdiction, setting up a checkpoint in the Ballyshannon village of Clyhore in 2010.
With Sunday's Clones clash fast approaching, an outsider could be forgiven for expecting a chilly atmosphere between rival fans inside the border service station to which that wall is attached. After all, it is the Ulster Final.
But these are friends as well as neighbours and the links between the two counties are as intricate as they are beautiful.
- Still unclear if DUP leader Arlene Foster will attend Ulster football final
When, in recent years, Fermanagh have seen their hopes fade at early stages of the knock-out competition, allegiance - or at least benign interest - is often transferred across the border.
Although, there is a line that even Donegal fan Liam McGinley will not cross.
"Get your hands on that, I'm not touching it," he says of a Lakesider banner to his Co Fermanagh friend Dermot McGlone, as he delicately extracts his own team's green and yellow flag from a `mixed' bucket.
The pair's amicable relationship working alongside each other at the service station has been spiked with nervous anticipation ahead of the weekend's showdown.
"There's a great camaraderie," Mr McGlone says as he pulls a green and white hat onto his head. He was at the last final 10 years ago and is going again on Sunday.
Fermanagh have never won the Ulster senior football championship.
"Hopefully they'll do it this time. He's a Donegal man and hasn't missed a Donegal final."
"I haven't missed a match since 2004," Mr McGinley confirms.
"But I offered to work to let the Fermanagh ones go to the match. It's been so long since they were in a final. Although I'm only staying 'til the match starts and then I'm going home to watch it."
The Donegal man may even have a hand in Fermanagh's future GAA glory. He trains the Erne Gaels in neighbouring Belleek at FUNdamentals (aged three to 10).
Meanwhile, his Fermanagh friend was a member of a Co Donegal boxing club.
These complicated connections, of course, continue with the senior teams, as former Donegal manager Rory Gallagher is directing Fermanagh's Ulster Final charge.
Mr McGinley believes these particular links mean any insider knowledge works both ways.
"Rory Gallagher knows Donegal players, but we know Rory Gallagher, Rory won an All Ireland with us in 2012 and took us to an Ulster final. We know Rory."
One of the pals will be disappointed on Sunday, but perhaps not as disappointed as if they were to lose to a more bitter rival.
"As a Donegal fan I would love Fermanagh to win the final - but not against Donegal," Mr McGinley said.
"I'd be the same as Liam, there. It's be nice to beat Donegal, the neighbours," Mr McGlone said.
Even inland, at Enniskillen and Ederney, the odd Donegal flag flutters, although it is a lonely sight among a canopy of green and white.
Lisnaskea twins Brian and Kevin McCaffery have been doing a brisk trade of memorabilia on Townhall Street in Enniskillen.
They had entirely sold out of adult t-shirts by Tuesday and, according to Brian, there wasn't one to be had anywhere in Fermanagh.
Plaits in the county colours, flags, wristbands, horns and clappers, bunting, scarves and hats have been flying off their temporary market stall.
"Everyone in the county is going up to Clones," predicts Kevin.
"The whole county is on a high.
"Fermanagh is coming and the lions will roar. We want nothing only victory."
Across town at Holy Trinity Primary School, the lion cubs in Year 6 were in fine voice as they discussed Fermanagh's chances of victory.
A massive green and white flag - their class project - hangs in the entrance hall, and another is pinned outside.
Teacher Katrina Cathcart is a Down woman with a vested interest in Sunday's match - one of her sons will feature in the half-time kids' game for a Fermanagh select team.
"I had my Down flag out last weekend but took it down and put up the Fermanagh flag," Mrs Cathcart said.
Ronan Morris is predicting it will be won by a Fermanagh goal scored in the 62nd minute by Eoin Donnelly, although a classmate thinks the Ernesiders will keep their fans hanging on for a nail-biting winner in the "71st or 72nd minute".
Farrah Cauldwell believes it will "definitely" be a win, but only by a point and without the help of her uncle Ryan McCluskey.
"He's not allowed to play," she reported solemnly of the veteran defender who was handed an eight-week ban after being sent to the stands against Monaghan.
A successful appeal means she may well see him contribute to the victory she has predicted.
Alone amongst his peers is Donegal fan Thomas Armstrong, stubbornly predicting a win for his mother's home county.
"They're never going to win. Fermanagh players are sissies," he declares.
Taylor McKeever, who will be sitting with her uncle in the Donegal end on Sunday, is plotting a stealth show of support from behind opposition lines.
Like others across the county, the school will today `Go Green for Fermanagh'.
Principal Brian Treacy, who only stepped down from Fermanagh's backroom management team last summer, said the change in the Ulster season has added to the excitement.
"There's been a great buzz about the school. It's the first time it happened during the school term and that has enabled us to create a buzz.
"If Fermanagh win the players will able to come round the schools with the cup."
No pressure, lads.