‘If we win we’re safe, so it’s massive’ - Fermanagh travel to Ardee for winner-takes-all showdown

“It’s a challenge we would have taken at the start of the year,” says Kieran Donnelly

Sean Cassidy of Fermanagh.
Fermanagh began Division Two with a draw and then a win against Kildare (above) but three losses have left them in the relegation mire (Donnie Phair/Photo by Donnie Phair)

VICTORY in Ardee on Saturday will ensure Fermanagh’s Division Two survival but Erne county manager Kieran Donnelly knows Ger Brennan’s relegation-threatened Louth will scrap tooth-and-nail in the relegation battle.

Fermanagh began their campaign with three points from their first two games but defeats in their last three outings (Donegal, Cork and Armagh) have left them hovering just above the relegation zone, a point ahead of the Wee County who are two better off than winless Kildare.

GAA Football Tables – The Irish News

“It does feel like a Championship fixture,” said Fermanagh manager Donnelly.

“It has a winner-takes-all feel about it – if we win we’re safe, so it’s a massive fixture and no doubt it’s a big challenge but it’s one we definitely would have taken at the start of the year.”

After their bright start in the League, Division Two new boys Fermanagh came in a distant second against Donegal but they were unlucky to lose in Cork and pushed Armagh all the way last time out. So the team isn’t struggling for form but chances have to be taken on Saturday.

“We feel that our performance levels have been very high,” said Donnelly.

“We’ve had a massive turnover of players both in retirement and injury-wise so we feel that we’ve acquitted ourselves really well. As a squad we’ve felt confident going into games due to the way we’ve been training. We felt we left the Cork game behind us because it was one of our best performances and we were unlucky to concede that goal (it finished 0-16 to 1-14 to the Rebels) near the end. That’s what you get when you play better quality teams, they punish you for every mistake and in that game we missed our goal chance and they went up the field and scored theirs in the last couple of minutes.

Steven Sherlock of Cork commiserates with Oisin Smyth of Fermanagh
Steven Sherlock of Cork commiserates with Oisin Smyth of Fermanagh after the Ernemen lost by a point. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Andrew Paton (©INPHO/Andrew Paton ©INPHO/Andrew Paton/©INPHO/Andrew Paton)

“But at the same time it has been an enjoyable Division Two for us, we’re playing big teams and we feel we’ve acquitted ourselves well so far.”

Defender Johnny Cassidy returned to the squad but didn’t feature against Armagh in round five but Fermanagh are still without injured Ryan Lyons, Luke Flanagan, Darragh McGurn and Aidan Breen. In their absence, rookies like Oisin Smyth have come in and performed well.

Meanwhile, Louth finished third in Division Two last year under Mickey Harte, reached the Leinster final and ran Cork and Mayo in the Sam Maguire group stage, so there is plenty of knowhow in an experienced side.

Neither manager will need to deliver a fire-and-brimstone teamtalk before throw-in because both teams will know exactly what’s on the line.

“I don’t think either team needs motivation for this game with what’s at stake,” said Donnelly.

“From what I have seen of Louth to date, they’re an exceptionally organised team, they are a physical team and they’re very similar to Cork in that respect.

“They ran Armagh close in the League (0-12 to 0-11), they gave Donegal their fill of it and they probably should have beat Cavan in Ardee as well.

“And they are a seasoned team, they’ve probably had a very similar 15 starting over the last three years and that in itself brings a level of experience so this is a massive challenge for us. With Sam Mulroy, Conor Grimes, Ryan Burns and Tommy Durnin in the middle of the field they have big players who Armagh and Donegal have struggled with this year.

“They have players we have to get in top of so it’s a challenge, there won’t be a massive amount between us and we know it’ll be a physical game.”