Darragh McGurn and Lee Brennan on target as Fermanagh and UU share spoils
Dr McKenna Cup: Fermanagh 1-9 UU 0-12
It was a horrible day for football at Canon Maguire Park, Derrygonnelly on Saturday as the 2019 McKenna Cup swung into action before the turkey had been bought in for Christmas.
The pitch stood up superbly to a barrage of rain over night that scarcely dissipated for any of what was a scrappy game that saw Fermanagh and UU share the spoils by the time Cavan whistler, Joe McQuillan called time on proceedings.
While much of the attention was focused on the experimental rules Fermanagh's Darragh McGurn and UU's Lee Brennan enjoyed their own place-kicking duel hitting 14 of the 22 scores between them.
McGurn, at just 19, was making his first start for the Ernemen and showed plenty of capability in the full forward line while Brennan displayed an artistry with his free kicks off the ground that belied the conditions.
The man under more of a spotlight than the 30 odd players was McQuillan as the new rules came under the microscope for the first time in Ulster. Both teams were blown up for using four consecutive hand passes on a number of occasions and it was hard to see their implementation causing a radical shift in thought from those on the side-line.
There was still men behind the ball and there was still a reluctance to kick into an area where defenders outnumbered attackers.
The first implementation of the rules saw a flowing UU move stopped as the fourth consecutive hand pass released an attacker through on goal.
McQuillan's shrill whistle pierced the air and the shot never materialised.
Even the Fermanagh players seemed a little forlorn at the situation.
After the game Erne boss, Rory Gallagher, was not holding back.
He had promised to keep an open mind on the new rules going into the game but after 75 minutes at Derrygonnelly he had reached his conclusion, especially when it came to the hand passing rule.
“I think people can see that teams are still going to get men behind the ball and it is leading at times to farcical situations.
“The referee was struggling to deal with it, there is no doubt about that, and any referee would struggle with it.
“There was a lot of play going backwards and short passing and a lot of over carrying as a result of the hand pass rule and a lot turnovers as a result of it too.
“I don't think it speeds up the game at all.”
When asked if he felt the hand passing rule encouraged long kicking he was brutal in his appraisal: “Unless the people that designed it want you to start kicking the ball aimlessly.
“Because the reality is that the majority of teams are gong to have one or two extra bodies back. I just don't see the point of it.”
Gallagher also had little time for the advanced mark, despite the fact that it led to two scores for his side through McGurn: “When the referee blows the whistle defenders invariably stop and that is a total distraction.
“Anyone that has played the game would understand that it is a complete distraction.
“I think the mark is destructive because the defenders naturally stop when they hear the whistle, it is very hard to reprogramme something that you have been doing your whole life.
“It is going to create goal chances when defenders stop and that is completely unfair on defenders.”
The game itself was stop start in nature, with the inclement weather compounding early season rust on the part of Fermanagh to make it difficult for them to put together a coherent performance for the full course of the game.
By half-time they did hold a three point advantage playing with the aid of a strong breeze. McGurn had five points to his name with Ryan Jones, Ryan Lyons and Kevin McDonnell claiming the other Fermanagh scores. At the other end Brennan and the impressive Daniel Kerr shared the students' five points.
The home side worked their way into a six point lead inside the first ten minutes of the second half. Conal Jones contested a long hopeful free kick from Declan McCusker and the ball ricocheted to the net for the only goal of the game.
UU hit back with two points, Kerr with his third from play and Steven Fagan with a fine effort.
McGurn replied with his sixth point from a placed ball for Fermanagh but this was to prove to be the last score for the men in green as UU went about reeling in a five point deficit.
This was achieved through the unerringly accurate left boot of Brennan who produced an exhibition of dead ball striking to bring his side level.
Indeed UU worked their way in for two good goal chances with Thomas Treacy equal to Brennan in a one on one and Kerr finding the upright with a drilled shot after some nifty footwork saw him beat two Fermanagh defenders.
In injury time Treacy strode forward to attempt a 45 but his effort held up in the breeze as the sides shared the points on offer.
Both sides will be back out for round two in early January.
Fermanagh: T Treacy; J Cassidy, T Daly, C McManus; K McDonnell (0-01), D McCusker, L Cullen; R Lyons (0-01), U Kelm; R O'Callaghan, R Jones (0-01), T Clarke; D Teague, C Jones (1-00), D McGurn (0-06f). Subs: E Donnelly for O'Callagh (24), A Breen for Lyons (43), C Corrigan for Teague (49), C McGee for Clare (54), K Connor for McDonnell (61)
UU: T McConville; M Magee, M McKiernan, S Fegan (0-01); D Gallagher, M McEvoy, P Durcan; T O'Brien, P Teague; N Donnelly, C O'Hagan, J Doherty; L Brennan (0-08, 0-06f, 0-01 45), D Kerr (0-03), L Harney. Subs: P Laverty for Doherty (44), O Duffin for O'Hagan (51), R Beatty for Magee (51)
Yellow Cards: M McKiernan (23), (64)
Red Cards: M McKiernan (64)
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan)