GAA Football

Fermanagh about to find out how good they are - McGrath

Tyrone's Connor McAliskey tangles with Fermanagh's Aidan Breen in last Sunday's McKenna Cup semi-final
Andy Watters

PETE McGRATH admitted last Sunday he doesn’t know exactly how Fermanagh will fare in Division Two this year.

After three wins in the Dr McKenna Cup group phase, McGrath was disappointed by his side’s second-half performance against Tyrone. The Erne men - who had been too good for Down in Newry the previous weekend - faded after a decent first 25 minutes at Clones and lost by seven points.

McGrath was asked ‘where Fermanagh are at?’ after the game and replied: “I think the next five or six weeks will tell us that.

“I think we have got good value out of the McKenna Cup again this year, a disappointing performance to end it on today. Where we are? I am not sure. I do not know the answer to that. But what I am saying is that what happens in a fortnight's time in Derry, what happens in a week after that against Meath, we will then know five or six games into the National League what our status is and whether or not we have made that jump into being serious contenders in serious competition.”

Fermanagh had led 0-3 to no-score in the first-half last Sunday and, with Eoin Donnelly showing shades of Paul McGrane in a dominant midfield display, they stood toe-to-toe with Tyrone until half-time. But after Donnelly was sent-off for a second yellow, Fermanagh collapsed.

Richard O’Callaghan and Ryan Jones missed the game through injury and McGrath says Fermanagh need all their big guns out to be competitive: “I think what this also showed today is that, for us to compete against the Tyrone's, the Derry's and the Cavan's of this world, we are going to need practically every player available to us,” he said.

“Physically, we were beaten. You need the Ryan Joneses, the Richie O'Callaghans and the Eoin Donnellys all on the field at the same time. Whenever we don't have them, given our pool of players, we see the consequences. Looking forward, we are going to need all our players if we want to cut any ice in Division Two.”

When the dust settles, McGrath may reflect that his side aren’t quite as good as their performance in Newry suggested or as bad as their second-half at Clones suggested but, as he said himself, last Sunday was a “reality check”.

Meanwhile, Tyrone manager Mickey Harte says his side has work to do too, despite their promising early season form. One area where there is obvious room for improvement is free-taking. The Red Hands had four free-takers last Sunday - Darren McCurry and Connor McAliskey had both missed before Mark Bradley finally hit the target and Ronan O’Neill also had a go in the second-half.

Niall Morgan is another option and, while all five are capable from dead-balls, none has managed the consistency Harte wants from a place-kicking specialist: “We were a bit erratic in the first instance and, probably, we have been to date,” he said.

“Nobody can say there’s a 90 per cent chance of that going over the bar but, after a poorish start, Connor McAliskey [1-3 including three frees] performed very well as the game progressed. He got two 45s or free-kicks from that kind of distance and some others. I know he’s very capable, Darren McCurry is very capable, Ronan O’Neill is very capable, Niall Morgan is capable of kicking frees. It’s just a question of getting the consistency you need to really push on at this level.

“The players know what that percentage return needs to be and it’s up to them to make sure they’re one of the people who can deliver that.”

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