GAA: County Focus 2017 - Fermanagh: Kenny Archer runs the rule over the Erne county
Fermanagh Focus 2017
Story of the Season
AS false dawns go, Fermanagh's was a lying black dog. A female one. The Ernemen humiliated Down on the opening Saturday night of the League, winning by nine points in Newry.
However, while the Mournemen recovered to reach the Ulster Final, Fermanagh went almost entirely down from there.
They lost seven of their eight games after that by an average of nine points, including both their Championship outings by that thumping margin.
After beating Down, matters went from bad to worse, losing by six points, eight points, then 12 points. Even when they achieved only their second win of the year, a five-point home success against Clare, that was followed by an 18-point hammering in Meath – and one-point loss at home to seal their relegation to Division Three.
Monaghan, then Armagh, almost casually disposed of the Ernemen in the Championship.
No wonder Peter McGrath called it an "annus horribilis".
It ended badly for the Rostrevor man too, ousted by player power, apparently citing complaints over indiscipline and favouritism in terms of substitutes.
County chairman Greg Kelly said "though we knew and the manager knew that there were some player issues. It was felt, however, that these could be overcome…"
They couldn't. It soon emerged that a significant number of players did not want McGrath to continue for a fifth season After the resignation of the former Down boss, Kelly admitted: "I don't want to go into the gory details but there was a breakdown in relationships and the manager resigned.
"One of the themes when I took up the post of chairman was unity of purpose and I don't want to get into a position where players are demonised.
"It is important that we now put this behind us and move forward and that we get the new appointment right."
Few would disagree that Fermanagh have done that, securing the services of Rory Gallagher, along with Tyrone man Ryan McMenamin.
The pressure, though, is on the players to perform now, not just Rory G and 'Ricey'.
McGrath led Fermanagh to six victories in 14 Championship games (a win percentage of almost 43 per cent), more wins than the three previous managers (Peter Canavan, John O'Neill, and Malachy O'Rourke) combined achieved in 18 outings (five, or less than 28 per cent).
You have to go back to the days of Charlie Mulgrew to find a Fermanagh boss with a higher Championship win percentage than McGrath, with the man in charge from 2004 to 2007 winning nine out of 19 (47 per cent).
McGrath's overall win percentage in League and Championship was almost 42 per cent, including two seasons in Division Two.
Fermanagh did win almost 44 per cent of all their matches from 2008 to 2013 inclusive – but those six seasons included two in Division Four and just one in Division Two.
Chairman Kelly need not worry that there will be pitchforks pointing at the players, but they will have to dig in and turn over a new leaf.
McGrath didn't do much different this season – perhaps certain players will say that was part of the problem.
The real reason was that Pete didn't have sufficient quality and experience to compete in Division Two or against more talented teams, such as Monaghan and Fermanagh.
In both Championship matches the Ernemen trailed only by two points at the interval, but simply could not compete once their opponents began scoring more heavily.
Arguably they were too negative in their approach, pulling the vast majority of their players back but lacking the pace and finishing power to make the most of any counter-attacking opportunities.
A players' spokesman told McGrath that most of the panel would not be committing [next year] if the same management was in place."
Commitment is what will be required in 2018.
What They Need
CUT out the goals conceded. Score some more – even points will do. Simples.
Easier typed than done, of course, but it's clear that Fermanagh were poor in both defence and attack this year.
Having scored an average of just under 14 points over 11 games last year, and conceded an average of precisely 14, both those figures went in the wrong direction.
The attacking tally didn't drop too badly, down to 12.67 points, but defensively Fermanagh went to pot, conceding an average of more than 18 points – and 21.5 in their two Championships outings.
Fermanagh let in 13 goals in nine matches and netted just twice.
That stark contrast certainly explains their demotion from Division Two, in which they scored just one goal but conceded 12, that goal difference accounting completely for their negative scoring difference of minus 31.
Obviously the retirement of experienced backs Niall Cassidy, Damian Kelly, and Marty O'Brien had an adverse impact.
Cian McManus was still a relative novice and Conor P Murphy a debutant, so this year should stand to them; Che Cullen and Aidan Breen are undoubtedly talented too, and Mickey Jones always reliable.
Collectively, Fermanagh will have to become hard to beat again, first and foremost, as they largely were in Pete McGrath's second and third seasons.
New assistant boss Ryan McMenamin should help in that regard, a player who was always determined to stop the opposition scoring.
Rory Gallagher has experience of organising defensive systems too, and he also should be able to improve his county's scoring return.
On that front, Fermanagh must persuade Sean Quigley to add effort and commitment to his undoubted talent.
He's a big players for them in another way, one of just a dozen six-footers on this year's Erne panel, which makes it all the more important to have the Jones brothers – Ryan and the returned Conall – fit and available to start.
Next year Fermanagh will again meet Armagh and Derry, in a Division Three that also includes Longford, Offaly, Sligo, Westmeath, and Wexford.
They'll need their best players on board to earn promotion.
BEFORE the end of August the word was that Fermanagh wanted Rory Gallagher to replace Pete McGrath and they moved swiftly to appoint the Erne Gael, announcing him on September 11.
Having the top level experience and will-to-win of former Tyrone star Ryan 'Ricey' McMenamin is a shrewd move too.
Gallagher was given one of those contradictory county board 'contracts', appointed `for a fixed term of three years, reviewed annually'; however, unless things go disastrously, he'll see out at least that length of time in charge.
IT was a bad season for Fermanagh, no doubt about that, but Che Cullen was a bright spot amidst the gloom. The Belnaleck clubman is a versatile defender and did fairly well when handed difficult man-marking jobs in the Championship. Up against Conor McManus in the Monaghan match, then Armagh's Andy Murnin, who presented very different tests, but the 23-year-old acquitted himself admirably against those quality forwards.
Tomas Corrigan was the Ernemen's most reliable attacker, but even he had a mixed day in the qualifier exit against Armagh, scoring six but also registering six wides.
End of the Line
'CLUCKER'. It's always 'Clucker'. How often have we put poor, old Ryan McCluskey in this category? Yet 'Old Man Erne' has just kept rolling along.
The Enniskillen Gael has served Fermanagh superbly on the senior scene since his Championship debut in 2001 but he'll be 37 next summer – and there's speculation that he may come into the new backroom team
However, apart from him, Fermanagh shouldn't anticipate losing many, if any, more of this year's panel, except for injuries or work commitments. Some might be 'retired' by Rory G but that's another matter.
Second choice goalkeeper Chris Snow seems set to step away from the inter-county scene while there are rumours about the involvement of Ryan Lyons next summer.
McCluskey is the only player even in his 30s at present, although defender Michael Jones will enter his fourth decade late next month, and will be joined next year by Barry Mulrone, Eoin Donnelly, and Paul McCusker – but all three can still be key players for Fermanagh.
The New Breed
THE new boss may integrate some of this season's squad members into the team more regularly, with six of this year's panel still to make their Championship debut.
Only two did so, namely Conor P Murphy at wing-back against Monaghan, and Ryan Hyde, who started as a third midfielder in Armagh. The former showed up reasonably well and although the latter was taken off, at 6'5" and 14 stone the Maguiresbridge man could bring some much-needed physical presence to Fermanagh going forward.
Among those who may have caught the Fermanagh selectors eyes in this year's club championships are Tempo forward Lorcan McStravick and Tempo defender Eamon Drumm, this year's county U21 full-back.
Other contenders, both in attack, could be Neil McDermott of Enniskillen Gaels and Brookeborough's Conor Goodwin.
If Chris Snow does retire from Fermanagh duty then there'll be a goalkeeping slot up for grabs. Jack Kelly was the U21 'keeper but he can't take the Derrygonnelly number one jersey off 40-something Dermot Feely, so Matthew Jackson of Tempo and Belcoo's Gary Doherty may have an opportunity.