Photo: Connaught Telegraph
So we’ve drawn Fermanagh in the qualifiers, with our Round 2B tie to be played at MacHale Park on 9th July at a time to be announced at some point later on today. It’ll be our first taste of the backdoor since we lost to Longford in a first round qualifier in June 2010 but it’ll be the first scenic route championship match we’ve played in Castlebar since overcoming Cavan in an opening round fixture way back in 2007.
Our three championship meetings with the Ernesiders came before then, of course, with our initial one also in the qualifiers, back in 2003. We’d lost the Connacht final to Galway two weeks prior to meeting Fermanagh in a Round 4 tie at Markievicz Park in July that year and we went under to the Ernesiders at Sligo by a single point, losing 0-12 to 1-8 (report here).
The following year we met at the All-Ireland semi-final stage. We were, by then, Connacht champions once more and came into that semi-final having unseated the defending All-Ireland champions Tyrone in the quarters, on the same day that Fermanagh had caused a massive shock by dumping out Ulster champions Armagh.
It took us two attempts to get past Fermanagh that year. We were wretchedly poor the first day where, down to fourteen men after James Gill was sent off, we somehow managed to scrape a 0-9 apiece draw. The replay the following weekend was a far better match but we still made hard work of it before finally shaking the Northerners off on a 0-13 to 1-8 scoreline (highlights here).
We’ve largely gone our separate ways in the years since then. We met them twice in the League – at MacHale Park in 2006, where we won by 0-19 to 1-14, and at St Tiernach’s Park, Clones (the match was played there as Brewster Park was closed for redevelopment) in 2007. That latter one was noteworthy at a personal level as it was the first Mayo game I went to after having started the blog, following which I penned this match report. Bloody hell, it feels like a long, long time ago.
Enough of ancient history. Fermanagh’s recent record is framed by that gutsy performance against Dublin in last year’s All-Ireland quarter-finals. The Ernesiders really gave it a lash Jack that day, Sean Quigley played with a smile on his face and shunted Stephen Cluxton over the line for Fermanagh’s opening goal on a day when they went down by 2-23 to 2-15.
That positive showing sent them into this year in good spirits. They held their own in Division Two of the League this spring, finishing fourth with six points. An opening day loss by nine points away to Derry was followed by a four-point home win over Meath, which in turn was followed by a one-point away defeat to Armagh. A cracking ten-point triumph at home against Laois came next, then a dispiriting five-point home reversal against Cavan. The campaign ended well for them, though, with two hard-fought draws, the first away to Galway and the second at home against Tyrone.
Fermanagh had high hopes of building on last summer’s green shoots in this year’s championship. Those hopes were buoyed by a positive Ulster opener against Antrim in May where Tomás Corrigan fired over nine points in a 1-12 to 0-9 win at Brewster Park. Donegal stopped their gallop a fortnight ago at the quarter-final stage, however, with Odhran MacNiallais goaling twice as the home side ran out 2-12 to 0-11 winners at Ballybofey.
The Ernesiders got back on the horse on Saturday with a Round 1 qualifier victory away to Wexford, where they won by 0-19 to 1-11. By all accounts, the visitors put in an accomplished showing in the second half at Wexford Park but it appears Paddy Power aren’t all that impressed as they’ve installed us as slightly ludicrous 1/12 favourites to progress when we meet at Castlebar on Saturday week.