Friday 28 October 2016

Fermanagh star Declan McClusker: 'I don't think any team should get to play every game at home ... it doesn't matter who it is'

Declan McClusker
Declan McClusker

IT'S been a long time coming - Fermanagh getting back to Croke Park in August - and yet part of Declan McCusker wonders about the venue.

His gripe? Why is that some counties get such rare exposure to HQ whereas Dublin have played every single SFC match at their Northside citadel since that distant trek to Longford in 2006?

Ryan McCluskey is the only Fermanagh survivor from the side that lost to Kildare in a final round qualifier at HQ in 2008; the same player also featured in that epic run to a semi-final replay against Mayo four years previously.

"It is a big change for us to be playing in Croke Park," McCusker admits, "whereas they're playing in it every championship game - which is something I don't agree with myself, but that's the way it is."

The wing-forward, it should be stressed, is not advocating that Fermanagh now be banished to some rural outpost, just when they've earned safe passage to Croker. Having clipped two points against Westmeath, he is relishing the chance to now mix it with the elite in front of the biggest attendance of his inter-county life.

Yet, being accustomed to those crowds is only one part of a Croker jigsaw that favours Dublin, he believes.

"A couple of years ago against Cavan, we were told we weren't allowed balls behind the goals to hit quick kickouts. But then Chris Snow, the 'keeper at the time, said that's a disgrace because Dublin are allowed to do it and (Stephen) Cluxton gets it," McCusker recounts.

"It's the only pitch in the country that has Hawk-Eye whereas none of the other county grounds have Hawk-Eye. That is obviously an advantage because you can get a bad call on another pitch but Dublin will never get a bad call against them because they always have Hawk-Eye to back them up.

"I just don't think any team should get to play every game at home. It doesn't matter who it is - Dublin, Kerry, it doesn't matter," he continues.

"You're going to have the majority of fans, Hawk-Eye, and you're used to those surroundings.


"Whereas for every other team that goes there, especially teams like Fermanagh who don't get there too often, it's a big thing to get there, and there is extra nerves and stuff."

At least Fermanagh have this year's Division Three league final against Armagh in the memory bank, albeit they were watched by just 8,134.

They are also emboldened by a summer run about to extend into its sixth match.

McCusker first joined the senior panel in the run-up to an inglorious qualifier defeat to London in 2011. Over the next three summers, they would lose six out of seven SFC matches. How was that?

"In 2003 and 2004 the teams was always doing well and winning championship games," the 24-year-old recounts, harking back to his own memories as a young fan.

"And it was frustrating, because we were losing games I thought we should have won," he adds.

"Even last year we got Antrim and you thought, 'We'll get a break here' ... and then they go and turn us over in Brewster Park. But I always had belief in the players we have and thought it has to come. We've had a young team but boys are starting to mature."



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