Fermanagh can give Clare an afternoon to forget at Brewster Park
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Fermanagh v Clare (tomorrow, 2pm, Brewster Park)
OF all the Ulster counties pushing and hauling for position as the National League moves deeper into its second half, it is Fermanagh who have punched hardest and highest to sit among the chasing pack at the top of Division Two.
Lucky to escape with a point from their opener at home to Cork, you sensed there could be some tough weeks ahead for the Ernemen as they set out to build upon a progressive 2018.
Just up from Division Three, and with all of Ireland knowing exactly how they will set up after Rory Gallagher’s first year in charge, Fermanagh were among those tipped for relegation at the off.
Instead they are one of only four unbeaten sides across all four divisions heading into tomorrow’s clash with Clare in Enniskillen.
Only a late, late Liam McGrath free denied them maximum points at Semple Stadium. Kildare were ground down at Brewster Park a fortnight later, and last Sunday they pulled off arguably the result of the weekend to stun Donegal in Letterkenny.
The same supreme level of organisation that delivered them to an unlikely Ulster final date last summer looks to have been enhanced yet further, with the Ernemen conceding an average of just 8.75 points per game thus far.
Considering the quality and scoring potential of their last two opponents, that is some going. Last week they also dispelled any notion that, should you manage to establish a bit of a gap early on, Fermanagh don’t have the attacking strength to work their way back.
Donegal led 0-5 to 0-1 early on and maintained that four-point cushion at the break. Fermanagh stuck at it though and, with Ciaran Corrigan in inspirational form, they reeled off nine points in the second half – eight of which came from play.
That speaks volumes of the confidence among their ranks, and is even more impressive considering they were without Eoin Donnelly, though Che Cullen stepped out into the middle third and helped the Ernemen establish control after that shaky start.
Donnelly, who aggravated an existing injury against Kildare, is not expected to start tomorrow, and could be held in reserve as Fermanagh’s next League game is not until March 16 against Armagh.
Gallagher has lost some experience from his ranks in the form of forwards Seamus Quigley and Tomas Corrigan and goalkeeper Pat Cadden, while the long-serving Barry Mulrone and Mickey Jones have been unavailable thus far.
However, the performances of corner-back Johnny Cassidy, aggressive wing-back Ultan Kelm, Garvan Jones and Kevin McDonnell have been a boost to the Ernemen.
In tomorrow’s opponents, they come up against one of the most consistently inconsistent sides in the division. Clare score well but, frustratingly for boss Colm Collins, can be naïve defensively. From their four games so far they have averaged 16 points, conceding 16.75.
Set up to counter at pace and strong in midfield, where captain Gary Brennan is a dominant force, the Banner also carry a significant goal threat. Goals scored against Fermanagh are like goal dust and, while they passed up a few gilt-edged chances in defeat to Kildare last week, Clare must be ruthless tomorrow.
The return to action of free-taker Eoin Cleary has helped their cause, he scored six points from placed balls in Newbridge last week, while Jamie Malone wreaked havoc when pushed into the full-forward line during the second half.
However, trying to unpick a Fermanagh side high on confidence is an entirely different proposition. The minimum Clare have scored in this campaign is 13 points (Fermanagh’s highest tally), but you wouldn’t fancy them to match that in Brewster Park.
A Kildare side littered with attacking talent left Enniskillen having had their hearts broken after managing a miserable six points. The Bannermen could be in for a similarly chastening experience tomorrow – Fermanagh by two.