By Barry O’Donnell
IT’S the forgotten rivalry for the most part, neighbours geographically but in terms of the footballing landscape more often they have been lights years apart.
When you think of the Yin and Yang which has epitomised the thrills of the Ulster Championship down the decades it has been Tyrone’s derby tussles with the likes of Donegal, Derry and Armagh.
However a former player who has featured in the ‘Erne’ green as well as the O’Neill red and white colours, cautions that the All-Ireland champions should brace themselves for a spiky challenge when they head to Brewster Park this Saturday.
Fintona native Aidan McCarron, for a long time now domiciled in Enniskillen, has first hand knowledge of the passion and pride which runs deep in Fermanagh football, even if their outings on centre stage tend to be fleeting.
A member of Tyrone’s back to back winning Ulster u-21 team in the early noughties as well as Ulster Senior Championship winning panel in 2007, McCarron played briefly for a spell with the Erne men, after switching allegiances to Enniskillen Gaels, when County manager Malachy O’Rourke asked him to come on board in 2009.
Aidan therefore fully appreciates what Saturday’s engagement with their illustrious neighbours will mean for the whole of Fermanagh, though adding that a similar perception doesn’t exist across the county border.
“Living up here I know that Fermanagh will relish it and knowing some of their players and management they will be rubbing their hands at getting the All-Ireland champions on their home patch.
“A lot of people in Fermanagh would count Tyrone as their big rivals but Tyrone people generally wouldn’t see it as vice-versa, bar those maybe around the Trillick area on the border.
“But as you move further into Tyrone it’s different. If you speak to Finian Moriarty who teaches in Omagh CBS he talks about the Tyrone v Armagh rivalry and when I was at Kilcar Patrick McBrearty mentioned the Tyrone v Donegal rivalry. But very rarely do you hear people in Tyrone talk about Fermanagh as rivals.
“Maybe it’s a touch of Tyrone arrogance or probably the fact that the teams haven’t met in as many big games as Tyrone have with those other counties.”
Employed as a Cancer Rehab Specialist through MacMillan’s liaison project with the local District Council, Aidan is part of the management set up with Longford club Dromard this season, after a three year spell with Kilcar in Donegal. In the past he was also a member of the Fermanagh Minor backroom team, and he is full of admiration for those driving GAA within the county.
“Fermanagh has punched way above their weight regularly when you think of the small numbers and playing pool they have compared to the likes of Tyrone. They always tend to be ultra-competitive.
And from his friendship with members of that successful Fermanagh side, he believes that the fallout from a couple of painful defeats in that decade had a profound impact psychologically on the county.
“There is probably still a big regret that it got away from them and you could say the same about the 2004 All-Ireland semi-final with Mayo. You talk to boys involved then, the likes of Ryan McCluskey who is a selector now, and you know it’s still a tough one to take. They never got over that and haven’t got as close again in either Ulster or the All-Ireland.
“I know they got back to the Ulster Final against Donegal a couple of years ago but that was a very one sided affair. Maybe since 2008 the gap has widened betweem some of the bigger teams and the rest.”
Despite the difficulties which Fermanagh has endured in recent years, McCarron argues that if they pull off a massive shock this Saturday it could set momentum rolling again.
“I know having run into Kieran Donnelly that he is really looking forward to it. It’s all to gain for Fermanagh and all to lose for Tyrone. They are expected to win it easy so they won’t get any praise if they do so but if they struggle to get over the line, other teams are going to see their opportunities down the road and feel that all is not well in the camp.
“If there is a bad performnace people might read a lot into it on the back of all the lads leaving the camp too. It will be no easy task and Tyrone will have to be at themselves because Fermanagh are on their own home pitch, the crowd will get behind them.”