GAA Football

McKenna Cup: Pete McGrath excited by Down clash

Pete McGrath's Fermanagh side got off to a winning start in their McKenna Cup encounter with St Mary's on Wednesday
Kevin Kelly

TWO-TIME All-Ireland-winning manager Pete McGrath will find himself back in familiar surroundings on Sunday afternoon.

McGrath is well used to being in the dugout at Pairc Esler in Newry,  although this time he will be on the away bench when his Fermanagh side take on his native Down in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup.

It’s a scenario he admits he wouldn’t have envisaged a few years ago, but things have changed since then.

“For a long time I was turning down opportunities to manage other county teams because I was still teaching and because the thought of managing a team against Down did not appeal to me much,” said McGrath.

“When the Fermanagh job became available I said to myself this could be my last chance to manage at this level so I am going to take it. 

“The prospect of meeting Down was always there, but it is McKenna Cup and it is not going to worry me.

“It is still a strange position but I suppose the fact that people coming from outside a county to manage now is very much an accepted part of the GAA means it is no longer taboo. I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t think anyone in Down will have a problem with it.

“I am looking forward to the game. I probably would not be looking forward to it as much if it was a National League or Championship game but it is McKenna Cup, which is a competition that people take seriously, but no-one loses any sleep over it.”

Fermanagh got their campaign off to a winning start with a hard-earned two-point success over St Mary’s at Garvaghey on Wednesday night, while Down lost their opener against Donegal in Ballybofey on Sunday.

After this weekend’s game, the Ernemen host Donegal in their final Section B match next Wednesday night.

McGrath is well aware that his charges face two tough games, but he insists they will be going all out to try and secure a semi-final berth, starting in Newry.

“Like the St Mary’s game, we will put out a team that will be a mix of experienced guys and some new faces, we will try a few things, and we will look for a good performance,” he says.

“If we get all of those I will be happy enough. I would love to win the match, needless to say. I am sure Eamon Burns feels the same, it happens to be Down but as far as I am concerned on Sunday they are the opposition and I am managing Fermanagh and I will be unemotional in that sense.

“The McKenna Cup served us very well last year. We got an additional game against Cavan in the semi-final, which definitely helped our preparations for the League and if we got to a semi-final again that would be grand.

“Donegal will be tough to beat next Wednesday night too because they are both Division One teams. 

“We will try to get the maximum out of those two games and if we do get a fourth game that would be bonus territory.

“There is more self-confidence about Fermanagh, there is more belief there than there was 12 months ago.”

While acknowledging that expectation is a good thing, McGrath is also keen to maintain a sense of realism within the county. 

“Obviously the football public have got raised expectations for the team in 2016 but they do realise that we are playing in Division Two and it is going to be highly-competitive, with four other Ulster teams in it plus Galway, Meath and Laois.

“That is going to be a highly challenging division and it is going to be much tougher and demanding than Division Three was last year.

“That is the challenge that we are all trying to match up to and it began against St Marys”

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