GAA Football

Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey: perhaps if he were born elsewhere, he would have it all now

Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey is the longest serving player still left in inter-county football. Picture by Philip Walsh.

PERHAPS were he born elsewhere, Ryan McCluskey would have it all now. Medals, trophies, even an Allstar maybe. At the very least, a few more championship appearances.

But then in the grand scheme of things, he hasn’t done too badly. There aren’t many Fermanagh players in the county’s history that have played in an Ulster final, appeared in the latter All-Ireland stages in three separate seasons and managed to accumulate 2,897 minutes of championship football.

The only thing he’s ever really wanted is an Ulster medal. And when their seventh first-round exit of his career came last summer as he headed towards his 37th year, he admits he thought medal, career and all were gone for good.

“When we had a dismal league campaign, and championship, it was definitely in the head that that was the end of the whole thing.

“Talked about it as well a few times but didn't make any rash decisions at the time. I mulled it over the summer and watched everybody else and at that stage I was waiting to see how the summer played out.”

And then Rory Gallagher called, and he changed his mind another time. Still feeling that he could offer something to the squad, McCluskey says it was “an easy decision” in the end.

As much as puts the brave face on it, it must be a bittersweet sensation to have been wearing number 26 this summer.

It can only be for a man who has started 42 of his 44 championship games, with the exceptions the ’04 game against Meath when he was just back on the panel, and the meeting with Wicklow in ’09 when he’d been struggling with injury.

Yet it would have broken his heart had a proposed eight-week ban been upheld after referee Conor Lane sent him to stands during the semi-final win over Monaghan while he was operating as a water carrier.

That he was wearing that number 26 and had been listed as a player was his saving grace.

“I talked to Rory at the start of the year and I knew with some of the niggles and strains in my body that I was no spring chicken and my role in the side had definitely changed.

“I knew some of the talent coming through and the lads in the squad and just delighted to be in helping and in the panel and everyone is battling to be in the panel,” says the Enniskillen Gaels clubman.

In his heart of hearts, he admits he could only have hoped that Gallagher would have the impact he has since taking over. Their limp 2017 performances have been replaced by vim and vigour, some old-fashioned labour laced with a tactical restructure.

“I’m sure you’re asking any player in any county and the goal is to try and win an Ulster championship, and we’re no different from any other player.

“We’ve been battling against the odds all year. At the start of the year we were hoping we could only go one way, but we had to work hard to move in a better direction.

“Did we think we’d be here? We knew if we worked hard, we’d have a chance of getting over Armagh and a chance against Monaghan.
”It’s mad. It’s Ulster football. There’s so much going on in terms of other provinces looking to restructure, but [in Ulster] every day you go out, there’s a different threat from a different side.”

It’s been a longest stretch, the longest in the country now. His first dalliance was ’99, although his championship debut didn’t come until two years later against Donegal.

’08 sticks out for him as much as it does for the rest, but even through the bad days, he would do it all over again.

“Absolutely I would. It's been a massive part of my life on and off the pitch. Again, it's been well documented in players' lives that there is too much commitment and a professional side of it.

“Maybe I have been regimented by it at this stage but it's something that I have loved. I'm sure my partner is glad to kick me out of the house in the evenings at times as well.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed it – I wouldn't mind a testimonial coming up like those soccer boys. And I spent my time at soccer, too. Maybe I'd be entitled to two,” he chuckles.

There would be no better way to head off into the sunset.

******

Ryan McCluskey’s championship record                            Mins (Scored)

2001 USFC QF          Donegal                           D                    70
2001 USFC QF (R)    Donegal                           W                   70
2003 USFC QF          Donegal                           W                   70
2003 USFC SF           Down                               L                    70                
2003 Rd 2 QF            Cavan                              W                   70
2003 Rd 3 QF            Meath                              W                   70
2003 Rd 4 QF            Mayo                                W                  70
2003 AI QF                Tyrone                              L                    70
2004 Rd 2 QF            Meath                              W                   40
2004 Rd 3 QF            Cork                                W                    70
2004 Rd 4 QF            Donegal                          W                    69
2004 AIQF                  Armagh                          W                    70
2004 AISF                  Mayo                              D                     70
2004 AISF (R)            Mayo                              L                      70
2005 USFC Pre          Armagh                          L                      70
2005 Rd 1 QF             Down                             L                      70
2006 USFC SF            Armagh                         D                     70
2006 USFC SF (R)      Armagh                         L                      70
2006 Rd 1 QF              Clare                            W                     70
2006 Rd 2 QF             Wexford                        W                     70
2006 Rd 3 QF             Donegal                        L                       70
2008 USFC QF           Monaghan                    W                      70
2008 USFC SF            Derry                            W                      70
2008 USFC Final        Armagh                         D                      70
2008 USFC Final (R)  Armagh                         L                      70
2008 Rd 3 QF              Kildare                          L                      70
2009 USFC Pre           Down                            W                     35
2009 USFC QF            Cavan                           L                      70 (0-1)
2009 Rd 1 QF              Wicklow                        L                      35
2010 USFC QF            Cavan                           W                    70
2010 USFC SF             Monaghan                    L                     70
2010 Rd 2 QF               Armagh                        L                     70
2013 USFC QF             Cavan                          L                     70
2013 Rd 1 QF               Westmeath                  W                    70
2013 Rd 2 QF               Cavan                          L                      70
2014 USFC QF             Antrim                          L                      70
2014 Rd 1 QF               Laois                            L                      70
2015 USFC QF             Antrim                          W                     30
2015 USFC SF             Monaghan                     L                     70
2015 Rd 3 QF               Roscommon                 W                    70
2015 Rd 4 QF               Westmeath                   W                    28
2015 AIQF                    Dublin                            L                     70
2017 USFC Pre            Monaghan                     L                     70
2017 Rd 1 QF               Armagh                         L                      70

Played 44
Minutes 2,897
Won 19
Drew 4
Lost 21

Scored 0-1

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