Enda McGinley: Farneymen forewarned of Fermanagh's threat
FOR several years I have done a bit of commentary work for BBC radio in its coverage of the football Championship. Aside from the usual ‘face for radio’ jibes, it is a nice wee gig.
Great views to all the big games, a wee bit of food, a sense of involvement in the games and the chance to chat football. There are certainly harder ways to pass a few hours.
Perhaps this is why my better half doesn’t take kindly to me calling it ‘work’ when I’m heading out and she is left entertaining the wee ones.
Last weekend, however, I was in Pairc Esler in Newry for Down v Antrim. Suddenly it felt like pretty hard work indeed trying to maintain a bit of life in my discussions with Owen McConnon when the life had long drifted away from the game itself.
The size of crowd may have been affected by the Champions League final and the much-talked-of ticket prices, but this is perhaps skirting the primary reason for a degree of apathy within both counties.
The match, and it is a recurring theme, was devoid of the intensity and atmosphere that we expect from Ulster Championship games. I usually try to be positive and avoid buying into much of the naysaying that accompanies our game but the entire second half was essentially a glorified challenge match.
Obviously the oft-maligned style of modern football may be an issue for some but there are other issues at work. The backdoor system removed a huge chunk of the glamour and excitement associated with straight knockout Championship.
The arrival of the ‘Super 8s’ means many counties know they are playing in matches which will be completely inconsequential come the main football of the summer.
The hurling round-robin Championships being in full flow and pitting top teams against each other week-in, week-out, along with the absence of live football from the TV screens, has played a part in what is to date a damp squib of an Ulster Championship.
The argument that too much TV coverage takes away from attendances is being proven wrong on the evidence to date.
TV coverage itself is only part of it – the competition itself looks in need of some new thinking to revitalise it in the manner achieved in the Munster hurling Championship, which was hardly an ailing competition anyway.
Ironically, for those pessimistic Down and Derry folk who stayed away from their counties respective matches last weekend, I saw enough signs of quality from both to suggest they are capable of much more than current lowly expectations and League positions suggest. If both teams hit a bit of form they could well take a scalp or two before the summer is out.
Of course the widely talked-of Donegal-Monaghan final first requires Monaghan to hold up their end of the deal and the Farneymen will look to confirm their place against Rory Gallagher’s Fermanagh on Sunday.
Given Monaghan’s attacking threat and the fact Fermanagh’s strongest attribute is their well-organised and disciplined defence, it does not take a punditry genius to predict the likely forces at work in this game.
Fermanagh, through deploying Declan McCusker as a defensive midfielder and keeping their wing-backs like trams running straight down the sidelines stretched Armagh and left a gaping hole in the middle of the pitch from which McCusker, Ryan Jones and Eoin Donnelly ran the game.
Indiscipline in the Armagh defence gifted the Fermanagh attack too many scores as they did seem to struggle in creation and execution of chances from open play.
Monaghan would expect a defence marshalled by experienced campaigners like Vinny Corey, Colin Walshe, Drew Wylie and Dessie Mone to not be anywhere near as generous.
The pressure will then fall on Fermanagh’s Quigley brothers, Conall Jones and presumably at some stage Tomas Corrigan to be more creative and threatening from open play. Against Armagh, Seamus Quigley seemed to be trying to force the game-winning performance from himself that his talent probably deserves and make up for the lost years.
As Conor McManus showed, in an era where defensive football is on top, patience is a necessary new attribute to a top forward’s game. Quigley and co must continue to work hard and bide their time, doing things bit by bit and being ready to let their talent do the talking when the chances arise.
Midfield promises to be a brilliant battle. Donnelly and Jones are hugely effective and instrumental for the Ernemen. Malachy O’Rourke got his match-ups spot-on against Tyrone which was only to be expected from a man known for his quietly-spoken astuteness.
I have no doubt Fermanagh’s midfield duo and McCusker at centre half-forward will have been duly selected for the silencer treatment and they will have to be at their very best to have the impact Fermanagh need them to have in this game.
Monaghan showed at times a Dublin-like willingness to be patient in front of Tyrone’s defence and prioritise maintaining possession over going into contact and breaking the line. Monaghan played against Tyrone with a maturity which was evidence of the years of experience of top-level football within their squad.
Maturity can often be considered boring, but with the showstopping talents Monaghan have in the likes of Rory Beggan and McManus they have become a very impressive team to watch.
I expect a game of attrition and patient play but Monaghan’s extra quality should see them through. Monaghan won’t need reminded, however, of a similar consensus before they fell to Down at the same stage last year.