Keeping goal-hungry Ruairi McCann quiet key to Fermanagh’s prospects

The Saffrons’ full-forward has netted five times in his last four games

Antrim’s Ruairi McCann scores a goal  during Sunday’s Allianz Football League Roinn 3 game at Corrigan Park in Belfast
Ruairi McCann has been in fine goalscoring form for Antrim since returning from injury. Picture: Colm Lenaghan

Tailteann Cup quarter-final

Fermanagh v Antrim (Saturday, Brewster Park, 6pm)

IT might not have been a sliding doors moments, but Aghagallon’s Ruairi McCann being ruled out of Antrim’s Ulster SFC opener against Down flagged up his importance to the Saffrons cause and arguably altered the result of that match.

The laboured Mournemen were distinctly flat and there for the taking by any team with better finishing power.

Antrim created enough goal chances to have overturned the four-point defeat and McCann’s absence was therefore stark.

The St Mary’s clubman has done everything since to reinforce that theory and has hit a rich vein of scoring form which will have the home side wary when Antrim travel to Brewster Park to take on Fermanagh today.

Erne boss Kieran Donnelly said as much earlier this week when assessing the threat posed by Andy McEntee’s men. In their four Tailteann Cup games to date, including last weekend’s preliminary quarter-final win over London, McCann has found the net five times.

However, while the Saffrons had to negotiate that London tie after finishing second in their group to Sligo, Fermanagh qualified for the last eight with three wins out of three in their group.

Sligo were the only team to keep McCann scoreless in the competition and Donnelly will be looking to the Yeatsmen for some pointers on curtailing the Aghagallon man.

Fermanagh, though, will be confident that they not only possess attacking options of their own, but have defensive solidity in the form of the Cullen twins and Declan McCusker.

Ultan Kelm pulls the strings in an effective attacking unit which has managed seven goals in their three group games.

Callum Jones and Conor Love have been among the goals, but they have had points from all over the field, from Ché Cullen at the back to their full-forward line.

That spread of scores will make them hard to close down and home advantage too can tilt things in their favour.

There has been little to choose between these team in recent times. The Ernemen edged a one-point win in the Dr McKenna Cup earlier this year and there was only a point between them when Fermanagh came away with the points in last year’s Division Three meeting at Corrigan Park.

Antrim did enjoy a comprehensive win in the group stages of last year’s Tailteann Cup, a result which saw the Saffrons top the group before eventually being edged out at the semi-final stage by 2023 champions Meath.

Andy McEntee has spoken of his squad’s desire to go one better this year, but Fermanagh might have enough on home soil to halt their progress.

Fermanagh R Bogue; L Cullen, C Cullen, J Cassidy; D McCusker, S McGullion, J Largo Ellis; B Horan, J McDade; C Jones, C McShea, F O’Brien; U Kelm, G Jones, S Cassidy

Subs S McNally, A Breen, R McCaffrey, C Love, O Smyth, D McGurn, O Murphy, T Bogue, D King, J McMahon, R McGovern

Antrim M Byrne; D Lynch, E Walsh, K Keenan; N Burns, J Finnegan, D McAleese; P McAleer, C Hynds; C McLarnon, P McBride, R McCann (Creggan); R McQuillan, R McCann (Aghagallon), M Jordan

Subs L Mullholland, C Higgins, C Johnston, C Hand, D McNicholl, D McEnhill, E Hynds, J McDonnell, L McLarnon, P Shivers, P Healy