Fermanagh might hold up their end of the bargain, but asking Kildare to bail them out could be step too far

Ernemen must beat Cavan and hope Lilywhites topple Louth to avoid drop to Division Three

Experienced defender Che Cullen insists the Fermanagh players are determined to get back to Croke Park after a below-par performance in their Division Three final defeat to Cavan. Picture by Adrian Donohoe
Fermanagh must beat Cavan at Kingspan Breffni on Saturday night to keep alive any hopes of staying in Division Two. Picture by Adrian Donohoe
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Cavan v Fermanagh (Saturday, Kingspan Breffni, 7pm – live on BBC iPlayer and GAAGO)

HOW has it come to this?

After all, things had been going so well. On the opening day of the League, Fermanagh were unlucky not to bring full points back up the road from Meath having led by three heading into the final quarter.

A draw in Navan, though, was a decent enough start. The following weekend they put Kildare to the sword – Glenn Ryan’s side expected to have been among those pushing for promotion.

Little did we know the car crash of a campaign the Lilywhites would endure, one which sees them relegated before the final game has even taken place. Did the nature of Fermanagh’s win in Brewster Park that night give a false sense of where they were?

Because, all of a sudden, instead of looking down, a few optimistic souls were looking up. Slowly but surely, however, the wheels have come off – culminating in last weekend’s shocking 6-17 to 0-11 defeat at the hands of Louth, a fourth defeat on-the-trot, and one which leaves Fermanagh facing the very real prospect of an immediate return to Division Three.

In truth, the killer blow came four weeks ago.

Cork had already lost to Donegal, Louth and Cavan when they rolled into Ederney, another defeat would have left them facing a huge uphill battle in their bid to beat the drop. And the Ernemen had the Rebels right where they wanted them for the majority of that fateful afternoon.

Leading by three five minutes from the end, all they had to do was keep their cool. Twelve months previous a last-gasp Sean Quigley goal saw Kieran Donnelly’s side defeat Down at St Joseph’s Park, igniting their promotion charge into the bargain.

This time around, the shoe was on the other foot – the consequences long-lasting.

Cork’s physical power around the middle finally paid off, and when Maurice Shanley found the net two minutes into added time to snatch victory, it truly sucked the wind from Erne sails.

Had they managed to hold on, safety would almost certainly be secure. But now, with confidence rocked by that 24-point humbling at the hands of the Wee County, Fermanagh face mission improbable, if not quite impossible.

The minimum requirement at Kingspan Breffni on Saturday is victory over neighbours Cavan. Manage that, and all eyes turn to Netwatch Cullen Park, where the Ernemen need hapless Kildare to turn over Leinster rivals Louth at the same time.

Given the relative trajectories of both counties in recent times, that appears highly unlikely, especially as the Lilywhites have nothing but pride to play for.

Cavan, too, come into this game on the back of a bit of a hiding, in their case at the hands of Armagh. Where Fermanagh played right into Louth’s hands last weekend, coughing up cheap possession before being punished on the counter by Ger Brennan’s pacy outfit, the Breffnimen were simply overwhelmed.

Faced with a full court press from Kieran McGeeney’s buoyant Orchardmen - for whom victory secured an immediate return to Division One - Cavan couldn’t get out, with Armagh in the mood to make them pay.

Fledgling Breffni boss Raymond Galligan, Cavan number one for so long before taking over the managerial reins, must have felt for current ‘keeper Gary O’Rourke as his kick-outs were picked off time and again.

With safety secure, and no threat of the drop, thoughts have likely turned to their Ulster Championship preliminary clash with old foes Monaghan in a fortnight’s time.

That might open the door for Fermanagh to fulfil their end of the bargain at Kingspan Breffni – but expecting Kildare to bail them out in Carlow looks like being a step too far.