GAA Football

GAA: Fermanagh: County Focus 2018

Fermanagh's Eoin Donnelly, right, with Monaghan's Niall Kearns during the Ulster SFC semi-final in Cavan. Picture by Philip Walsh
Seamus Maloney

GAA: Fermanagh: County Focus 2018

Story of the Season

FERMANAGH’S 2018 story had a pretty rubbish ending.

They were completely outplayed by Kildare, blown out of the water by half-time when they were trailing by 11 points.

They at least broke even after the break – though they still shipped 3-20 as they fell out of the Championship the hurdle before the Super 8s.

But the way the story ended didn’t tell the half of it.

It’s not every year Fermanagh get to the Ulster final. It’s six years in the 131 since the Ulster Championship was first played.

So, whatever about the diminished status of the provincial Championships, Fermanagh getting there this year meant something.

Once there, being handled with ease by manager Rory Gallagher’s former team Donegal was a (not unexpected) let-down but, still, taken along with their promotion from Division Three in the spring, Gallagher’s first year in charge of his native county was an obvious success.

In many ways it mirrored 2015 when Pete McGrath guided the Ernemen out of Division Three, although they lost to Armagh in the final, and then through the Championship backdoor and into a memorable All-Ireland quarter-final with Dublin.

While that journey went one step further than Fermanagh managed this year, 2018 stands out because it delivered a signature moment along the way.

Two points down and you score an injury-time goal to beat a raging hot favourite? And it sends you into an Ulster final for the first time in a decade?

That is what will ensure Fermanagh’s story of 2018 is still being told decades from now.

But there was plenty to be pleased about before Eoin Donnelly rose to fist Ryan Jones’ punt forward past Rory Beggan and send a disbelieving Monaghan out of Ulster.

They lost just once in Division Three before the final – away to Westmeath – and foreshadowed the summer drama to come when Seamus Quigley boomed over a massive late free a Pearse Park in Longford to grab the second promotion spot ahead of the home side.

After McGrath’s last year in charge saw Fermanagh relegated to the third tier of the League and suffer heavy Championship defeats to Monaghan and Armagh, Gallagher turned things around as much as he could have.

Promotion was followed by beating the Orchard county and Farneymen in the Championship.

The win over Armagh had none of the drama of the one against Monaghan. The home side led all the way through at Brewster Park against a much hyped but completely ineffective Armagh. While Kieran McGeeney’s side won the Division Three final between the sides, in Ulster Fermanagh kept their noses in front until a red card for Armagh’s Niall Grimley early in the second half. After that they were moved into complete control en route to a 0-12 to 0-7 victory.

The defensive discipline they displayed was the key feature of their subsequent meeting with Monaghan who, like Armagh, failed to fire. But they weren’t allowed to.

Still, it looked like Monaghan had weathered the storm, pushing into a late two-point lead before Donnelly struck.

Fermanagh still had four and-a-half minutes to negotiate after that but there the was feeling around Kingspan Breffni that afternoon that it was going to be their day. A day for a little history to be made.

Ulster final day in Clones, so near geographically, but so far away so often in the past, brought perfect sunshine, a visit from Arlene Foster and a brief burst of hope.

Fermanagh scored first and trailed by just a point 15 minutes in, but from the moment Eoghan Gallagher scored Donegal’s first goal, the Tir Chonaill men ruthlessly took over the afternoon, eventually winning 2-18 to 2-12.

The Qualifier against Kildare in Navan got away from Fermanagh even quicker, with Daniel Flynn scoring a goal after eight minutes in a match that looked beyond the Ernemen from the start.

But it won’t take away from what went before, and it won’t stop them heading into 2019 eager for more.

What They Need

IT’S hardly a surprise that Rory Gallagher’s first task was to tighten up the Erne defence – and less of a surprise that he managed it.

In 2017 they averaged more than 18 points conceded per game – and 21.5 in their two Championship matches.

This season, they were the meanest defence in Division Three, conceding an average of just over 11 points per game in their run to the final and promotion. Only Laois and Antrim conceded less in the League and, after the dead rubber of the Division Three final defeat to Armagh, they were even better in booking their Ulster final place, allowing just 0-7 against the Orchardmen Armagh and 0-10 against Monaghan.

The wheels came off in the Ulster final against Donegal when they shipped 2-18 and in the Qualifier loss to Kildare when they conceded 3-20, but those results shouldn’t mask the obvious improvement the Gallagher-led management team brought.

So, that’s one half of the equation.

The other is much trickier, and one that just about every county in the country wrestles with: how to maintain that defensive solidity while posting higher totals at the other end.

Although they lost just one match en route to promotion from Division Three, they only managed to score more total points than Wexford (by five) and Sligo (by one) in the division.

While that may not matter when you’re being so parsimonious in defence, every team bar bottom side Louth scored more than Fermanagh in Division Two this year, and to compete at the higher level, they’ll have to find more scores.

It was their undoing in 2017 when they were relegated from the second tier.

A huge part of them problem that year was the lack of goals – something they addressed this season in finding the net eight times in the League.

Having Seamus Quigley back and firing was huge for them – he was their top scorer is every match in the League except two, when he was joint-top.

Towards the end of the season his brother Sean re-established himself in the side and brought more firepower with him. If both Quigleys can be kept on the straight and narrow, it will give them every chance of staying in Division Two at least.

Manager Status

THINGS really couldn’t have gone much better for native son Rory Gallagher in his first year in charge, and the Beleek man will head into year two of his project with expectation levels raised accordingly.

The freshly retired Ryan McCluskey, who has expressed an interest in getting into management before he ended his county career – and got himself sent off while acting as a maor uisce against Monaghan – and could be a candidate to join the backroom team at some stage.

Mr Consistency

Seamus Quigley

FERMANAGH’S Ulster semi-final win over Monaghan was remarkable for a number of reasons.

One was that Conor McManus, tormentor of just about every defence he faces, didn’t score from play. That was due mainly to full-back Che Cullen (though he had plenty of help from James McMahon), who was a solid presence on the defensive square throughout the season for Fermanagh.

Another reason was that Seamus Quigley wasn’t playing. A breach of squad discipline saw him dropped from consideration, but it was just one blip in a superb season for the Roslea man.

He was brought back into the Fermanagh fold by Gallagher and repaid his faith by leading the line brilliantly through the year and landing the other memorable late blow – the mammoth free against Longford that clinched promotion.

End of the Line

IT feels like every year for the past five or six that Ryan McCluskey has featured in this section, with a few judiciously applied question marks.

He took over from Dick Clerkin as the longest-serving inter-county player two winters ago and now it really is the end of the line for the Enniskillen Gaels clubman who ended his Fermanagh career after 19 years in the green jersey.

Eamon Maguire returned to the Erne panel after a three-year absence and may need persuading to go again by Gallagher but he and the 38-year-old McCluskey were outliers in the Fermanagh panel. Only Michael Jones, Barry Mulrone, Paul McCusker and Eoin Donnelly will also be in their 30s heading into next year.

The past season has given anyone thinking about stepping away plenty of reason to put it off at least one more year.

The New Breed

The Fermanagh U20s played Armagh on the same Brewster Park pitch six days after the seniors dumped the Orchard county out of Ulster, but couldn’t repeat the trick in a heavy defeat.

Still, some of those in action that night – who have already picked up senior experience as part of Rory Gallagher’s extended panel – could be set to make a bigger impression this year.

Ederney’s Conor McGee made six appearances for the seniors last year, including starting the Division Three final.

Defender Ultan Kelm, an Erne Gaels club-mate of Gallagher’s, and midfielder Eoin Beacom, who captained Enniskillen Gaels to the Ulster club minor title on New Year’s Day, could also make the step-up, and should certainly see McKenna Cup gametime

One of those Gallagher would have loved to have available is 19-year-old Tempo forward Lorcan McStravick, who started two McKenna Cup games last winter but was stretchered off in the U20s defeat to Armagh with a serious knee injury that will keep him out until next year.

70:30

The time on the clock when the ball, helped on by Eoin Donnelly’s fist, hit the net against Monaghan.

Fermanagh held on to ensure the moment took its place among the county’s greatest.

Fermanagh

2018 Championship

Ulster SFC quarter-final:

Fermanagh 0-12 Armagh 0-7

Ulster SFC semi-final:

Fermanagh 1-8 Monaghan 0-10

Ulster SFC final:

Fermanagh 0-12 Donegal 2-18

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round four:

Kildare 3-20 Fermanagh 0-18

Championship tally for (average):

1-50 (13.25)

Championship tally against (average):

5-55 (17.5)

TEAM KNOCKED OUT OF ALL-IRELAND

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers round four, Newbridge, July 7:

Kildare 3-20 Fermanagh 0-18

Fermanagh: P Cadden; C Cullen, L Cullen, M Jones; B Mulrone (0-1), D McCusker (0-1), A Breen; E Donnelly, T Clarke; D Teague, R Jones (0-2), J McMahon (0-1); R Corrigan (0-1), Seamus Quigley (0-7, 0-6 frees), C Jones Subs: K Connor for Teague (24), T Corrigan (0-2) for Breen (32), R Lyons for C Jones (36), P McCusker for Clarke (43), Sean Quigley (0-3) for R Corrigan (46), C Magee for Mulrone (59).

CHAMPIONSHIP SCORERS

Seamus Quigley 0-16 (0-12 frees), Sean Quigley 0-12 (0-8 frees), T Corrigan 0-4 (0-2 frees), R Jones 0-4, E Donnelly 1-1, B Mulrone 0-3, A Breen 0-2, C Jones 0-2, D McCusker 0-2, L Cullen 0-1, C Corrigan 0-1, J McMahon 0-1, R Corrigan 0-1

NFL DIVISION THREE

Armagh (P) 7 5 1 1 33 11

Fermanagh (P) 7 5 1 1 19 11

Longford 7 4 1 2 26 9

Westmeath 7 4 0 3 -5 8

Sligo 7 2 2 3 -20 6

Offaly 7 2 1 4 -21 5

Derry (R) 7 2 0 5 -4 4

Wexford (R) 7 1 0 6 -28 2

Final position: second

Fermanagh 3-7 Wexford 2-5

Fermanagh 2-11 Offaly 1-6

Sligo 0-8 Fermanagh 0-13

Fermanagh 1-16 Derry 3-8

Westmeath 0-14 Fermanagh 1-9

Fermanagh 0-7 Armagh 0-7

Longford 1-9 Fermanagh 1-10

Final: Armagh 1-16 Fermanagh 0-17

 

Quote

``I remembered the 2008 game against Derry when Barry Owens scored. It’s old school, but if you have a big man in the square, something can happen.''

Rory Gallagher after Eoin Donnelly punched to the net to send them to the Ulster final

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