Fermanagh to keep promotion hopes on track against Derry
Allianz National Football League Division Three: Fermanagh v Derry (tonight, 7pm, Brewster Park)
THE final whistle in Brewster Park last April brought down the most reverential of hushes.
Carlus McWilliams had just turned away not 30 seconds earlier thinking he had saved Derry from relegation with the most sublime of winners, off the outside of his right boot from 40 yards.
It earned Derry a one-point win in a game they scarcely deserved it from. The Fermanagh crowd barked at the referee over the allotment of some extra-injury time but as it turned out, none of it mattered. Jerome Johnston’s late equaliser for Down against Cork kept them up and sent both their Ulster rivals down.
Neither enjoyed much of a championship run and both counties opted to change manager at the end of it, so it will be Rory Gallagher and Damian McErlain on the line tonight rather than Pete McGrath and Damian Barton.
Gallagher has made a very obvious difference to the Ernemen in the early weeks. There was such resoluteness about Fermanagh in McGrath’s first couple of years. They were incredibly hard to break down and their competitiveness was built on bettering the workrate of anyone they came up against.
There is an undeniably strong look about their defensive core too, with Ché and Lee Cullen at the heart of defence, and Eoin Donnelly and Ryan Jones at midfield.
The early signs under Gallagher are they have rediscovered that quality and organisation at the back, but equally that the bigger task on his hands is to manufacture enough scores to win the bigger games.
While their results have been positive, with three wins from three, it’s fair to say that the latter half of their League campaign always looked tougher than the opening.
And despite the wins over Wexford, Offaly and Sligo, it’s been hard not to notice the consistency in the former Donegal manager’s post-match comments, in which he has bemoaned their wastefulness in front of goal.
Tomás Corrigan didn’t return last weekend so Conall Jones and Seamus Quigley continued in the full-forward line. It will be interesting to see where Corrigan slots in when he does return.
Derry were one of the other sides in action last weekend after being snowed off the week before, and turned in a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde show against Offaly.
A 1-6 to 0-0 head start was built on some positive attacking play, led by Enda Lynn and Emmet Bradley, but they ended up nervously hanging on to a two-point lead heading into the final quarter against the league’s basement side.
They are neither further back nor forward in terms of replenished squad numbers, having had just 22 players named last weekend, and it is likely to be much of the same in terms of a starting line-up.
James Kielt’s introduction was the catalyst for Derry’s comeback in Enniskillen last year and using him and Mark Lynch off the bench is a tactic they’ve repeated to some effect through the first two months of the year.
But Fermanagh are longer in the tooth and have rediscovered the edge that should keep them locked to the top of the table.