Fermanagh facing battle for survival against Armagh: Declan McCusker

A Fermanagh GAA player runs away with the ball as he is pursued by an Antrim rival
Fermanagh's Declan McCusker in action against Antrim's Patrick McBride in Ahoghill Picture by John McIlwaine

“I thought we were going to survive in the end-up but they caught us.”

Fermanagh captain Declan McCusker was talking about the game lost narrowly to Cork, but he’s obviously hoping his words don’t prove prophetic about his county’s Division Two campaign.

He does know that defeat on Sunday past at his home club of Ederney “means the rest of the league is going to be a serious battle.”

For much of the match Fermanagh looked like they were going to edge to a vital victory before an injury-time goal from Cork substitute Maurice Shanley swung the game in the Rebels’ favour, 1-14 to 0-16.

A huge sigh escaped the skipper’s lips when asked to reflect on that outcome, before saying: “Yeah, look, it’s bitterly disappointing. We knew it was a massive game coming in – a win would have been a huge result. It would have put five points between us, now they’re just one behind us. It means the rest of the league is going to be a serious battle.”

With three points from their first four games, Fermanagh next host table-toppers Armagh before tricky trips to Louth and then neighbours Cavan.

The first Ulster derby, against the Orchard County, next Saturday in Enniskillen, clearly will have Fermanagh’s full focus, with McCusker knowing how testing that encounter will be:

“At the start of the year everyone was kind of looking at them and Donegal and thinking that both of them will go straight up. So far results are showing that.

“It’s one of the toughest games you’re going to get – and we have them in the Championship too. Look, it is what it is, we just have to get ready for it.”

The Erne County captain pinpointed the areas that led to their defeat against Cork – the concession of possession to the opposition, and the failure to stop their runners.

Even when asked about positives a despondent McCusker soon noted the errors his team made in the second period:

“We controlled the ball for a lot of the game. It was probably our own mistakes which led to a lot of their attacks. Plenty of times we had control of the ball and then did something stupid with it, didn’t make the right decision, and that set up a lot of their attacks and scores. That’s something we need to look at.”

With the ball in their hands, the Rebels were able to run forward purposefully, admitted McCusker:

“We’d plenty of chances and silly mistakes in the second half caught us. They cut us open a few times and I suppose the goal was probably coming.

“I thought we were going to survive in the end up but they caught us. They played well in the second half and we made too many mistakes. It’s a tough one to take.”

Injury to the recalled goalkeeper Sean McNally meant young Ross Bogue was brought back into the team for the final third of the match, and the Tempo lad denied Cork goals on several occasions, but eventually Cork found the net.

“Even Sean [McNally] made a couple of good saves before that,” recalled McCusker. “They did get through a few times, which was disappointing. We’ll just have to look at it and try to tighten things up before Armagh, because they’re going to come with a serious team. That’ll be a tough one.

It was noticeable that the enforced change of goalkeeper was the only substitution Fermanagh boss Kieran Donnelly made before the 65th minute but McCusker doesn’t believe that means their panel is lacking depth:

“It’s hard to know. I think there are plenty of boys there who could come in and do a job, maybe freshen things up. Kieran chose not to use them until later in the day. We do have a few injuries and a few boys coming back, hopefully that will boost us over the next weeks.”