Fermanagh and Carlow battle for promotion to Division Three of the Lidl NFL

The sides drew when they met earlier in the campaign

Eimear Smyth and Niamh McIntosh
Eimear Smyth and Niamh McIntosh Eimear Smyth (right) has been in blistering scoring scoring form for Fermanagh this season Picture: Sportsfile (Oliver McVeigh / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

Lidl Ladies’ NFL Division Four semi-final

Fermanagh v Carlow (tomorrow, Dowdallshill, 2pm)

FERMANAGH bid to reach their first league final since 2019 when they face Carlow on Sunday.

As well as place in the league final in two weeks’ time, the winner will be promoted to Division Three for next season following a change in the regulations that now sees both league finalists go up.

This is Fermanagh’s third consecutive semi-final, a good indication of the consistency of the county, but they came out on the wrong end of the results the past two years and they will certainly be hoping to turn those fortunes around.

For Carlow, this is their first semi-final since 2017. They finishedfourth in the table, while Fermanagh came through the seven league rounds unbeaten to finish top, their only dropped point being against tomorrow’s opponents.

Erne manager CJ McGourty recalls that game as more a battle with the elements, including a gale force wind, with a draw being the fairest result on the day.

Fermanagh had built up a huge lead at half-time in that game with the wind at their backs, but Carlow reeled them back in and managed a late goal to salvage a draw.

“It was a very, very even game despite the conditions,’’ says McGourty.

‘’The teams played a good brand of football, the skillset for both was very good on the day. We’re not looking back on that game at all, it was one of those days where you try and get out with anything.

“We are very much looking forward to the semi-final. The league was wrapped up a couple of weeks ago, the break probably wasn’t great for us, we had a wee bit of momentum behind us but it’s the same for all teams.

“Carlow too have had a break, so we will just get on with it. It’s a good opportunity to try and get promoted. It will be a difficult task against a seasoned outfit in Carlow,” he added.

Fermanagh always push themselves to reach a league final with the first step to reach the semi-finals and despite the new management team this season and new players coming on board, that has not changed. So, not to have qualified for the semis would have been disappointing, McGourty admits.

“Yes, it would have been a disappointment not to be in a semi-final, of course.

“Will it be a disappointment to lose this weekend? Yes it will be. You want to win every game of football that you play and if you don’t, you should be disappointed, otherwise why play? We are happy to be in a semi-final to give us the chance to get promoted this weekend.

“Carlow will be no different. That’s the nature of the game. We are in a competitive environment, working at an elite level where everyone wants to win on whatever day they go out to play.

‘’There can only be one winner on the day, and I think it’s natural if we don’t win not to be disappointed.”

McGourty does not regard Fermanagh as favourites for this game, despite what anyone might say or think and on the day any team can be beaten.

“We may have topped the group and Carlow may have finished fourth but there are five or six teams who can take points off each other and beat each other so we are very wary of the threat of Carlow.

“I think it’s 50/50 straight down the line. We don’t think we are better than any of the other teams in this competition. Carlow have just as much firepower as us, they have talented players in there. We are aware that unless we perform on Sunday that we will get nothing out the game.”

That firepower McGourty alludes to on the Carlow team includes Cliodhna Ni She, Rachel Sawyer, Sara Doyle, Sinead Hayden and Maeve O’Neill.

Fermanagh have plenty themselves, especially in Eimear Smyth, who was named the LGFA Player of the Month for February.

She is Division Four’s top scorer and will certainly be the main threat on Carlow’s radar, but they also need to be aware of the supply of ball into Smyth and the support she gets from the likes of Blaithin Bogue, Niamh McManus.

At the other end, Fermanagh have one of the tightest defences in the league, second only to Limerick on total scores against.

This has the potential to be a great game and with promotion and a league final at stake, both sides will throw everything at each other to get over the line.

Leitrim, who finished runners-up in the table, and third-placed Limerick feature in the other semi-final tomorrow afternoon (Padraig Pearses GAA Ground, 1pm).