Tyrone and Derry tests welcome as Fermanagh prepare for Cork Division Two opener says Rory Gallagher
CLASHES with Derry and Tyrone in the space of four days are welcome tests for Fermanagh as their Division Two opener with Cork comes into view, says Erne county manager Rory Gallagher.
The Ernemen’s season began last year of course – they opened their Dr McKenna Cup Section C programme with a 0-12 to 1-9 draw with Ulster University on December 15 – but the more serious business begins with Sunday’s second round tie against Damian McErlain’s Oak Leaf outfit.
Gallagher will be without the honeymooning Declan McCusker for the Brewster Park clash but Paul McCusker, Barry Mulrone and James McMahon are all in contention to feature on Sunday.
After that game, Fermanagh take on Mickey Harte’s Tyrone – who had nine points to spare over Derry in their opener – in the final group fixture on January 9 and progress to the knockout stages would be welcome as Gallagher prepares his men for Cork’s visit to Enniskillen a fortnight later.
“The focus for us is preparing as best we can for the Cork game and putting everything into it,” said the Fermanagh manager.
“We will move on week-by-week but the National League is a phenomenally exciting competition and if the weather stays as mild as it is now it will lead to some great games.
“It’s a big step up for ourselves. We had a very soft start to Division Three (home wins over Wexford and Offaly) last year and the intensity levels and the skill level and the quality of the opposition have all increased this year and the reality is that these are the tests you want to make improvements to the team. We’re excited by it.”
After hosting Cork, Fermanagh travel to Thurles to take on Tipperary and they then have home advantage against Kildare. Their schedule from there on looks very demanding with three away games in their last four fixtures – first against Donegal and then, after hosting Clare, Fermanagh travel to familiar foes Armagh (the side they beat on their way to last year’s Ulster SFC final) and finally Meath.
“We don’t look too far ahead,” said Gallagher (left).
“Whatever the fixtures are, we’ll deal with them on a week-by-week basis.
“The lads are aware that we’re going up a level and we won’t get away with the mistakes we made and the quality of our performances in the early stages of Division Three last year.
“With all due respect, we were playing against teams hovering between division three and division four and now we’re playing teams hovering between division one and division two. That is a massive jump up in terms of the quality of the opposition.
“We need to prepare really well and make sure the training is right so we give ourselves the best chance of getting results. It’s an exciting place for our boys to be.”
Several experienced performers are back in contention for Sunday’s clash with Derry.
“There are boys who are easing their way back into it – James McMahon would be one,” Gallagher explained.
“Then there’s Paul McCusker and Barry Mulrone, we’ll just see where they come into the reckoning and how they are fixed. Declan McCusker has gone on his honeymoon so he’ll be missing but we’ll be giving a number of guys a run who didn’t play the last time and are working their way back towards fitness.
“It’s the same in every squad – you have players at different levels of fitness at this time of year and we’ll see who is best suited for the day.”
l Further McKenna Cup