GAA Football

Last year means nothing now says Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly

Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly says last year's good run will count for nothing if they lose to Antrim this weekend. Picture by Ann McManus
Cahair O'Kane

THEY may have reached the last eight of the All-Ireland series last year, but Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly says the success of 2015 will mean nothing if they fail to build on it.

The Ernemen won four Championship games in a season for the first time since reaching the All-Ireland semi-final in 2004, a run which included two wins over Antrim.

The sides will meet for the fourth time in three Championship seasons on Sunday and, despite growing expectations within the county, Donnelly says it will all have counted for nothing if 2016 falls flat.

“People’s expectations are built on last year. A lot of that is down to the run that we had through the back door but we don’t get anything for the results that we had last year, that is all in the past.”

However, that run, including a brave performance against Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final, has created an interest in the team that Donnelly says they have worked hard to maintain.

“It was great to see that the people of Fermanagh got behind us on that journey.

“The crowds were building and you could see it in the game against Roscommon but particularly the evening we beat Westmeath in Cavan.

“And after the game in Croke Park, just seeing everyone who was there to back the team was a great buzz. I hope that we have maintained those supporters and that we have not lost too many since.”

A hamstring strain suffered during a recent club game had threatened his participation in this weekend’s preliminary round clash.

He missed last year’s 1-13 to 0-8 win over Frank Fitzsimons’ side with a hand injury and missed a big chunk of 2013 with a broken leg as well.

But the talented midfielder, who was due to captain Ulster in last winter’s unplayed inter-provincial series, says he will be fit to line up against the Saffrons this weekend.

“I had a hamstring strain in the second last round of club games. It set me back a wee bit with the county but thankfully it is mended now.

“I still have a couple of training sessions to go and I am being well looked after by the medical staff so I am confident that I will be in good shape for Sunday.”

Pete McGrath has openly targeted a first ever Ulster title for Fermanagh since that impressive run last summer, which was ultimately ended by eventual All-Ireland champions Dublin.

Their belief has been strengthened further by a National League campaign in which they survived in Division Two despite being without a handful of key players.

When they really needed results, they managed to pull out a draw away to promotion chasing Galway despite playing most of the second half with 14 men, and then held Tyrone in Brewster Park to secure their safety.

Even finishing above Ulster rivals Armagh and Derry didn’t satisfy the Coa man though, who believes they could have gotten more from the campaign.

“We know ourselves what we are capable of doing. We had higher expectations of what we could achieve in the league than we actually managed, but it was just the way the league turned out it was very tight and it could have gone anyway.

“There were a couple of games where we felt we could have done better and if we had we could have been looking upwards. Some of those games were very tight.”

Marty McGrath came closest of all to being the first man to captain the county to an Ulster title when they took Armagh to a replay in the provincial final eight years ago.

Current skipper Donnelly, though, hasn’t thought much of what it would be like to guide his team up the steps at St. Tiernach’s Park in July.

“When it comes round to this time of the year you tend to get asked that question but there have been a lot of Fermanagh captains in the past that have been asked the same question and unfortunately they have not been able to deliver.”

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