The day Fermanagh gave Mayo an almighty scare - and both counties' fortunes since then

Qualifier clash is the counties’ first competitive meeting since 2004 All-Ireland semis.

Ronan McGarrity tussles with Barry Owens during the 2004 All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay
Ronan McGarrity tussles with Barry Owens during the 2004 All-Ireland SFC semi-final replay
Image: INPHO

THIS WEEKEND, FERMANAGH travel to MacHale Park in Castlebar for their Round 2 football qualifier clash to play, in some respects, a journeyed Mayo outfit.

The Ernesiders will be hoping to cause one the biggest championship shocks in recent years when the ball is thrown in at 3.30pm this afternoon — the first competitive meeting between the sides since the 2004 semi-final replay won by Mayo.

Since then, both teams have been on considerably different journeys.

That 2004 clash was by no means an epic encounter but it did present an unfamiliar pairing with Fermanagh venturing into the semi-finals for the first time and Mayo returning to the stage for the first time since 1999.

After the teams finished level with nine points apiece on their first day out, the replay saw Mayo crush Fermanagh’s hope of becoming the third Ulster team in as many seasons to lift the Sam Maguire Cup.

A goal from James Sherry couldn’t deprive Mayo of their first appearance in the final since 1997 as the Fermanagh team bowed out of the championship with the luxury of hope for the future.

Mayo’s fortunes a few weeks later are better forgotten by the westerners. They failed miserably to a hungrier Kerry squad and continue their wait to this day of putting an end to the glory drought.

Source: Classic GAA Channel/YouTube

But since the encounter back in August 2004, Mayo have continued to be a significant force within the championship. Although there have been barren years, they have remained a consistent threat — racking up seven provincial titles and three more All-Ireland final appearances — while the Ulstermen have been largely stuck in championship wilderness.

Charlie Mulgrew’s men were unable to build on their success in 2005. They were knocked out of the Ulster SFC at the first hurdle before losing in Round 1 of the qualifiers to Down; their summer was over before 1 July.

Fullback Barry Owens and midfielder Marty McGrath played an instrumental role in Fermanagh’s path through that 2004 campaign, both landing All-Stars for their efforts. Owens was rewarded again in 2006 but the county has not had another representative on the end-of-season selection since the Teemore Shamrocks man’s triumph.

In contrast, Mayo have bagged 14 All-Stars over the last five campaigns and hold the record for remaining in Division 1 of the league for the longest period of time.

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Fermanagh, currently in Division 2, have found themselves generally springing between Division 3 and Division 4 since 2004. Furthermore, they have failed to achieve Division 1 status since the introduction of the four-tier system back in 2008.

But, the arrival of Pete McGrath in the county has seen somewhat of a renaissance occurring for the Ulster minnows and they now present a dangerous obstacle for a hurting Mayo team this weekend.

Jim Gavin shakes hands with Pete McGrath Pete McGrath congratulates Dublin manager, Jim Gavin, after last year's All-Ireland SFC quarter-final. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Although they fell short against a irrepressible Dublin team in 2015, McGrath’s men still managed to ask questions of the eventual champions, a task which most teams fail to do. They now also obtain a viable scoring threat with Tomás Corrigan, fast becoming one of the countries most potent forwards, and last year’s championship top scorer Seán Quigley.

Mayo have yet to prove that they are the same force under Stephen Rochford as they were in the past. Fermanagh are a team on the rise and any suggestion that this afternoon’s game is going to be handy start for Mayo, as they aim to get back to Croke Park on the August Bank Holiday weekend, is a foolish one.

Anything but complete respect for the visitors this weekend could result in Mayo’s earliest exit from the championship for the first time since their defeat to Longford in 2010, a memory which still triggers shudders for the Mayo faithful.

Seamus O'Shea and Paddy Dowd Seamus O'Shea and Paddy Dowd contest for possession during Mayo and Longford's 2010 qualifier clash. Source: James Crombie

August 2004 is a distant flashback now. Both teams have come a long way since and this latest reprise should bear no resemblance to the previous meeting.

Both teams have the capacity to card big scores now but more importantly, victory for either team will not constitute a successful year. Unlike 2004, a win will only mark the restart of a — hopefully — long campaign.

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