GAA Football

Fermanagh facing relegation battle as Cavan keep their cool to break Brewster record

Cavan's Thomas Galligan fists over a point early in the second half of Saturday night's Division Two victory over neighbours Fermanagh. Picture by Donnie Phair
From Neil Loughran at Brewster Park

Allianz National Football League Division Two: Fermanagh 1-11 Cavan 2-11

WHEN Fermanagh were last beaten at Brewster Park in the League, they went tumbling down to Division Three on the final day of a dramatic 2017 campaign. Three years on, and with three games left, the Ernemen find themselves fighting to avoid the same fate after neighbours Cavan stormed the fortress on Saturday night.

Now, of course, the stakes are way higher. Dropping into the third tier promises potentially dire consequences and, with only two points taken from a potential 12, time is fast running out.

Next week they welcome familiar foes Armagh to Enniskillen – defeat is surely not an option.

Cavan, though, have shown how a group can galvanise itself in the face of the most extreme adversity, the spectacular turnaround in their fortunes reaching new heights as they ended the Erne County’s unbeaten run.

Shorn of three star men in Killian Clarke, Conor Moynagh and Dara McVeety, you’d have got short odds on the Breffnimen heading for a second consecutive relegation when they were skelped by Armagh on the opening night.

Yet here they sit, right in the mix for an instant return to the top flight after burying memories of their Athletic Grounds nightmare with victories over Westmeath, Laois and now Fermanagh. Mickey Graham wore the grin of a satisfied man as he stood pitchside in the pouring rain, clasping the hand of each of his players as they headed from the field.

“The obituaries were written already after the Armagh game and the headstone was put on our graves,” he said.

“I don’t think that was fair. It was a bad night at the office for us but it opened our eyes and we knew we had a good bit of work to do to get back onto the horse.

“They’re getting used to each other, we’ve a lot of new faces and they’re starting to blend together.”

It was a display that demanded cool heads, composure and doggedness. For most of the game the Breffnimen were probably second best, but in wet, slippery conditions, their efficiency in front of the posts was hugely impressive.

When Ultan Kelm finished off a move he started to goal seven minutes in, side-stepping Raymond Galligan to score, Cavan didn’t panic.

Lashing over a point in response within 30 seconds, Gearoid McKiernan – working wonders off both feet - grabbed the game by the scruff as the Breffni County kicked the next five scores to move into a 0-5 to 1-0 lead midway through the half.

It wasn’t until the 19th minute that Fermanagh got their first point, courtesy of a Conall Jones free, but they finished the half strongly, Ciaran Corrigan and Ultan Kelm alternating as the single man full-forward line – the pace of Corrigan, in particular, giving Padraig Faulkner cause for concern.

With Cavan down to 14 after losing Evan Doughty to a silly black card for pulling down Jonny Cassidy, Corrigan’s classy score tied it up but Oisin Pierson and Chris Conroy edged them back into the lead.

Two scores in the space of minute, first from Corrigan and then Ryan Jones sent Fermanagh in ahead at the end of an entertaining first half.

Yet the Ernemnen were masters of their own downfall too. Six wides they kicked in that period to Cavan’s one, while three promising attacks broke down when the ball died on the sodden turf after an ill-advised bounce.

Cavan were much more judicious with their use of the ball when attacking the same goal after the break and, with Oisin Kiernan raiding to supreme effect down the left wing, an aerial bombardment on James McGrath’s goal eventually paid dividends.

There was a warning five minutes into the half when Thomas Galligan fisted over from Conroy’s long ball in, and they made the breakthrough 12 minutes later when Kiernan’s effort at the posts dropped short, leaving the unlikely figure of Faulkner to rise highest and fist to the net.

Heading towards the final 10 the Breffnimen struck another hammer blow. Again, it was route one stuff, substitute Ryan Connolly sending the ball high into the square. McGrath looked to be in control as he came out to collect but somehow let it slip from his grasp, Thomas Galligan only too happy to pick up the fumbled ball before hammering to an empty net.

They were down by five, but Fermanagh had been here before – just a few weeks in fact when they trailed Roscommon heading towards the last. Again they held their nerve and gradually ate into the Cavan lead, a free from sub Eoin McManus making it a goal game with three minutes to go.

But Cavan stayed cool, McKiernan delivering the final blow deep into added time to seal a hugely important win.

After coming out the wrong side of close battles with Kildare and Westmeath already, it was a bitter pill to swallow for McMenamin. And the Tyrone All-Ireland winner felt Galbally referee Sean Hurson missed a possible penalty for the Ernemen when Corrigan ended up on the ground after a foot race for the ball with Faulkner in the 44th minute.

“We battled hard, we just didn’t make enough of our chances,” he said.

“Ciaran Corrigan was pulled down - the umpire told him it should’ve been a penalty and a black card, the referee was told but played on. It was harsh. When you’re a smaller county, you don’t get those calls; if it had been Tyrone or Dublin playing it would’ve been a penalty.

“But we’re making too many silly decisions, shooting from silly angles… 12 wides, four or five dropped short. At this level you can’t be doing that.

“We’re bitterly annoyed that we lost tonight - it’s a relegation battle now.”

Fermanagh: J McGrath; J Cassidy, C Cullen; J McMahon; K McDonnell; D McCusker, R O’Callaghan, Shane McGullion (0-1); E Donnelly, R Jones (0-2), Stephen McGullion; A Breen (0-1), C Jones (0-2, frees), U Kelm (1-0); C Corrigan (0-3). Subs: D McGurn for Stephen McGullion (55), D Teague for McCusker (57), E McManus (0-2, 0-1 free, 0-1 45) for C Jones (64), E Sheils for McDonnell (65)

Black cards: Stephen McGullion (45-55), R Jones (75)

Yellow cards: J Cassidy (29), J McMahon (49)

Cavan: R Galligan; P Faulkner (1-0), G Smith; K Brady; C Brady, M Reilly, O Kiernan (0-2); T Galligan (1-1), C Conroy (0-1, mark), J Smith; E Doughty, G McKiernan (0-5, 0-1 mark), M Reilly, O Pierson (0-2, 0-1 free); C Madden, B Magee. Subs: S Murray for Doughty (42), L Fortune for Magee (49), R Connolly for Pierson (55), B Kelly for Madden (63), L Buchanan for J Smith (70+3)

Black card: E Doughty (22-33)

Yellow cards: G McKiernan (49), T Galligan (61)

Referee: S Hurson (Tyrone)

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

GAA Football