Rory Gallagher set for winning return on Fermanagh managerial bow
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup section C: Fermanagh v Monaghan (Wednesday, 8pm, Brewster Park)
RORY Gallagher has danced enough dances with Monaghan over the past six years to know everything they’re capable of, yet it nearly feels like a parallel universe as he prepares for that old foe once again tonight.
Instead of the Donegal dugout that has been home for all but one season since 2011, it will be to the home end at Brewster Park that the Belleek native heads for the first time since his playing days ended.
The opponents he meets will be familiar in one way and unfamiliar in another. They will still be in white and blue, still with Malachy O’Rourke on the line, but that will be about the height of the normality.
The Monaghan squad for the McKenna Cup contains only a few regulars. Darren Hughes, Fintan Kelly and Karl O’Connell are the out-and-out established stars, while Neil McAdam and Kieran Duffy have been no strangers to summer football in recent seasons.
If any or all of them make any sort of appearance in Enniskillen would make a considerable difference to how this game pans out but it seems highly likely that it will be a hugely experimental Monaghan side.
The youngest inductee is Dean Connolly, who comes straight out of last year’s minor team. He was the star for his club Killanny as they lifted the county minor ‘A’ football title for the first time in their history, scoring a goal in the final against Carrickmacross where he ran with the ball from well inside his own half.
James Wilson, a first year student at Dundalk IT, is an attacking option along with David Garland and Micheal Bannigan, who will also be hoping to make an impact.
But Monaghan’s attitude towards the McKenna Cup contrasts greatly with how they approached it last year.
When these two met on the opening day of 2017’s competition, Malachy O’Rourke’s teamsheet contained a whole host of the big-hitters, with both Hughes brothers, Rory Beggan, Ryan Wylie, Colin Walshe, Gavin Doogan, Shane Carey and Dermot Malone all playing.
It resulted in a one-point win over an opponent whose optimism quickly washed away through the National League, and who starts now from a low base.
In one way, it’s a good place for Rory Gallagher to be starting from. There may be expectation that they will climb their way back out of the third tier this spring but it is at least a realistic ambition.
Much will depend on their defensive improvement. Having prided themselves on being hard to beat in 2016, the collapse of their defensive cohesion last year undermined anything else they attempted.
The difficulties of rebuilding are starkly evident when you look at the personnel they’ve lost over the past couple of years. Pete McGrath often lamented losing Marty O’Brien, Damian Kelly and Niall Cassidy to retirement over the previous winter.
Now Mickey Jones and goalkeeper Chris Snow have called time as well, and it remains unclear whether Ché Cullen will be about or will take the year travelling. That means potentially six of a starting back seven gone in the space of two years.
There has been speculation too about a return for Seamus Quigley in attack, while brothers Ryan and Conall Jones are both definitely back in the fold for the season.
Fermanagh are likely to show a much stronger hand than their visitors, so Gallagher’s return home should be a winning one.