Armagh can storm fortress Brewster - but only if McGeeney's men keep their heads
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Fermanagh v Armagh (tomorrow, 2pm, Brewster Park)
FORTRESS Brewster was breached for the first time in almost three years last weekend, and Fermanagh cannot afford to fall again on home turf as they bid to escape the drop to Division Three.
Defeat to neighbours Cavan was a significant body blow to their survival hopes, with boss Ryan McMenamin reckoning the Ernemen need to win all three remaining games, starting against Armagh tomorrow.
That is probably a bit extreme, considering five points was enough to keep Clare – who are in the relegation mix again – afloat last year, while Cork survived with six the year previous.
But you can’t blame the former Tyrone star for trying to focus minds after a game they controlled for long periods last weekend, only to pay the price for two sloppy second half goals.
No doubt Armagh will have got a hold of the tape and seen the difficulty Fermanagh had in handling any high ball that came into the square. There were a couple of warnings in the first half; they needed to quicker to close down the raiding runs of Oisin Kiernan from deep, with his deliveries causing constant bother. Still they were too slow in getting to him.
Thomas Galligan fisted over an early score before Padraig Faulkner easily rose above ’keeper James McGrath to fist home Cavan’s first goal. Another high ball in led to their crucial second, McGrath fumbling this time to leave Galligan with the easiest of finishes.
Conor Turbitt and Rian O’Neill carry the kind of aerial threat that could wreak mayhem unless Fermanagh can get to grips with Armagh out the field, where the likes of Rory Grugan and Oisin O’Neill are more than capable of delivering the ball on a sixpence to the inside line.
The Ernemen looked at their most effective when going full press on Raymond Galligan’s kick-outs, hunting for turnovers much higher up the field that during the Rory Gallagher era when they were happy to let teams reach their 40 before trying to snatch possession.
That more aggressive approach has left them more vulnerable at the back, with Gearoid McKiernan in particular gifted far too much space to do damage last week when Cavan got control around the middle.
But Fermanagh are not the only ones who can be exposed defensively, as Westmeath proved against Armagh last week. The absence of the experienced Brendan Donaghy was keenly felt as the Lake County ran straight the heart of Orchard rearguard during a spell of dominance.
Fermanagh have the tools to cause similar problems, although whether McMenamin will tinker with his tactical plan to expose those weaknesses remains to be seen.
Last week the Ernemen have operated with a one man full-forward line, Ciaran Corrigan and Ultan Kelm alternating that role against Cavan.
Corrigan excelled, his pace and clever runs giving Faulkner an uneasy night’s work. When Kelm went inside, however, he was nowhere near as effective.
As demonstrated by his brilliant first half goal, the Erne Gaels man has the pace and power to drive through the lines from deep, getting on the end of a move he started to slot home.
That directness could cause Armagh problems, while Corrigan can also be a major thorn in their side, having built upon his burgeoning reputation throughout what has been a frustrating League campaign to date.
The Orchard have shown in spells how devastating they can be, but retain that ability to leave supporters tearing out their hair by switching off and losing promising positions - clearly evidenced by last week's second half collapse before snatching a draw at the death.
If they can stay controlled and keep their concentration, it is very difficult to make a case for anything other than a second home defeat in-a-row for the Ernemen. But with Armagh, you just never know what you are going to get.