‘We felt we could compete with them...’ Fermanagh have belief for Armagh showdown says McGullion

Championship victory in 2018 the blueprint for Ernemen going into Brewster Park quarter-final

Shane McGullion is one of the younger faces featuring for Fermanagh this season.<br /> Pic Philip Walsh
Shane McGullion says Fermanagh produced positive performances in Division Two despite being relegated

SHANE McGullion was a young hopeful watching from the Brewster Park stands when Fermanagh hosted Armagh in a 2018 Ulster Championship quarter-final.

His county had drawn with the Orchardmen in Division Three and lost the divisional final before that meeting but their management had done their homework and designed a defensive straight-jacket that Kieran McGeeney’s men couldn’t find a way out of.

Fermanagh choked the life out of Armagh, won 0-12 to 0-7 and went on to the Ulster final.

Armagh went through a period of soul-searching after that loss but good results in the backdoor restored morale and, in the six years since, the Orchardmen have been the better team.

A four-point win at Brewster Park this year saw them promoted back to Division One and Fermanagh relegated back to Division Three. However, McGullion – who was called up to the senior panel in 2019 - insists that the Ernemen picked up enough positives from the campaign to give them confidence that better is to come.

“Armagh are a great team,” he said.

A Fermanagh GAA player runs away with the ball as he is pursued by an Antrim rival
Declan McCusker scored two points but Fermanagh lost by four against Armagh in the League

“They only came down from Division One and they’ve bounced straight back up. They have some fantastic players but whenever we played them in Brewster Park we felt that we could compete with them.

“That game gave a lot of us some confidence because the last time we played against them in the League we got beat well by them (3-14 to 0-10). It’s a Championship game on Sunday, it’ll be really competitive and we’ll look forward to it.

“We’re underdogs in the majority of the games we go into in the Championship. We’re at home again on Sunday and against Derry last year we didn’t do ourselves justice, especially in the first half and that’s something we want to put right.

“We wanted to make Brewster Park a fortress this year and hopefully home advantage will play a part for us.”

Armagh lost the Division Two final with a curiously insipid performance against Donegal but that was their first loss of the year. Meanwhile, Fermanagh started the League well but a missed opportunity in Cork and an uncharacteristic hiding in Louth meant they couldn’t avoid relegation.

“The Louth performance surprised us all,” McGullion admitted.

“We were really up for that game and we knew if we got the result we were safe but on the day our workrate wasn’t there and everything that could go wrong did go wrong. As any top team does, Louth punished us for it. There were a lot of disappointed people after that result but we bounced back really well with a good performance against Cavan. So we’ve been able to move on and it (the Louth result) is just one of those things that happens.

“We had the capability to stay in Division Two. It was a bit bitter-sweet to beat Cavan in the last game when it was out of our hands and we needed a result elsewhere. Looking back, we missed opportunities but we put in some great performances this year and we were unlucky with a few results.

“The team has come on leaps and bounds so we take the performances from the League into the Championship and hopefully we can get something out of it.”

After the pre-season retirements of experienced trio Sean Quigley and Ryan and Conall Jones, Fermanagh manager Kieran Donnelly had rebuilding to do. McGullion says young players like goalkeeper Ross Bogue and midfielder Joe McDade are enjoying the opportunity to step up.

“We have lost some big names but it’s an opportunity for younger ones to step in,” he said.

“The average age of the squad is rightly down so that brings fresh opportunity and young ones need that bit of confidence put into them that they can thrive and push on at county level.”