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NFL Focus: Donnelly has brought freshness to Fermanagh says McGurn

Darragh McGurn is now in his fourth year on the panel having made his debut under Rory Gallagher in the Dr McKenna Cup back in 2019 Picture: Cliff Donaldson.
Gareth Cauldwell

ALLIANZ FOOTBALL LEAGUE FOCUS

FERMANAGH’S Darragh McGurn says that new manager Kieran Donnelly has brought a freshness and a different approach to the set up.

Donnelly took over the reins from Ryan McMenamin who stepped down last year, and McGurn’s feels that things have gone well so far for the Erne camp as they prepare for their Allianz NFL Division Three campaign, which gets underway on Saturday night against Antrim at Brewster Park.

“Kieran has brought something that we haven’t really experienced before. He has taken a holistic view where he is considering your actions off the pitch as well as your actions on the pitch to help you become the best footballer that you can be, and that has been good,” said McGurn.

“I think a new management will always bring a freshness to things and gives boys a bit of a kick, especially boys who have been there on the panel for a long time, it gives them that motivation.

“It is not even that it is a new voice, but it is a voice that brings new ideas as well. You take things from previous managers and learn from them, and you learn even more when another manager comes in. It has been going well.”

McGurn is now in his fourth year on the panel having made his debut under Rory Gallagher in the McKenna Cup back in 2019.

The athletic 23-year-old has nailed down a place in the starting side in recent years, but he acknowledges that he is still learning the game and for him it is all about continuing to improve.

“At the start when you first come in as an 18 or 19-year-old you are kind of shocked by the level that it is, and you think that you will never reach that level, but now that I’m in there three or four years I’m comfortable with the environment and it is just now about learning and improving and trying to perform consistently.

“You want to try and reach another level and try to help bring the team to another level,” he stated.

The Belnaleck clubman is part of a younger core of Fermanagh players who have grown up with each other on and off the pitch and he feels that has also helped them settle into the squad

“You’re coming through with a group of players who you went to school with, went to University with and played underage football and schools’ football with, and I think it is always a positive thing,” he added.

Indeed, there is now another wave of even younger players coming through with six of the St. Michael’s 2019 Hogan Cup winning team having started the McKenna Cup game against Derry with a few more also in the panel. All this is positive for Fermanagh in the years ahead.

“The boys who played in the Hogan Cup winning team have really come in and stepped up and have not looked out of place at all which is massive for us moving forward in the next year or two,” he said.

McGurn himself is set to be an important player for Fermanagh both now and in the future.

Good in the air, physically strong and pacey while also having an eye for a score, McGurn has shown to be versatile in his county career to date and during the McKenna Cup games against Monaghan and Derry he could be found at midfield, the half forward line or the full forward line at various stages of those games.

And he is happy to play wherever the manager wants him to play.

“Beggars can’t be choosers and if I’m thrown in at full forward, I’ll play at full forward,” he said.

“I do enjoy being out around the middle, I think any player will tell you that playing an inside forward role at this level is not easy, you are not going to see as much of the ball as you are when you are out around the middle, but I’m happy to play wherever I’m put.”

Those two McKenna Cup games produced two defeats for Fermanagh, but McGurn, who completed his Aeronautical Engineering degree last year, believes that they will stand them in good stead for the league.

“If you were to win those games and you weren’t performing well you might be papering over cracks, but we’ve actually performed quite well for large parts of the games.

“I think the things that went wrong in the games were very controllable in terms of execution of skills at times and finishing.

“We were more than comfortable with things like possession, so it is really just about learning from mistakes in those two games and bringing it into the league because realistically the two teams that we played are higher quality opposition than what we are going to meet in Division Three,” he said.

Fermanagh did go close to gaining promotion from Division Three last year, losing out to Offaly in a play off after a brave fightback came up just short. An honest McGurn though admits that they probably didn’t deserve promotion.

“It was disappointing but, if we were honest with ourselves, the first half performance against Offaly was nowhere near good enough and we knew ourselves that we weren’t performing at the level of a Division Two team,” he added.

Fermanagh, though, will be aiming to be among the contenders for promotion again this time around.

“This year we hope, and we think, we will be bringing a higher level of performance to every game and hopefully that will be enough to get us up to Division Two. We want to get back up to Division Two,” said McGurn.

It is a youthful Fermanagh squad that will compete this year but McGurn feels that it is a squad capable of challenging for promotion.

Although it is a young squad, we also have experience there as well, so it is a good blend, and it is a squad that is definitely good enough to challenge,” he said.

He is not though about to look too far ahead with McGurn stressing that the only focus at the minute is that meeting with Enda McGinley’s Antrim.

“Antrim are coming up from Division Four and they are a good side so we are not looking past that game in any way.

“It is a big game for us. If you lose that you are on the back foot, we have only three home games and four away so if you lose that first one then you are left with four away and two at home and it is going to be an uphill battle, so the full focus is on Antrim,” he said.

And after a couple of Covid disrupted years, McGurn is looking forward to getting back to a full season.

“Last year was weird, it didn’t feel like an inter-county season at times. We were just preparing for games on the back of maybe three or four weeks training so we maybe weren’t as fit as you would have been going into them, so that was a big thing. We’re looking forward to this year, we’ve worked hard and we are going in with a good bloc of training behind us,” he said.

Fermanagh captain Eoin Donnelly announced his retirement from inter-county football last week after 10 years' service 

VERDICT

Fermanagh are under new management for the forthcoming season with former Erne player Kieran Donnelly taking over after Ryan McMenamin stepped down following two years at the helm.

The Ernemen have lost captain Eoin Donnelly who announced his retirement from inter-county football last week after ten years’ service, but they will be aiming to be among the challengers for promotion from what looks to be a competitive Division Three.

Ryan Jones has returned to the squad after stepping away last season and his experience, along with the likes of James McMahon, Declan McCusker, Sean Quigley and Aidan Breen, will be important for what on the whole is a youthful squad.

Many of the St. Michael’s team that won the Hogan Cup back in 2019 are now involved in the squad and the likes of Josh Largo Elis, Sean McNally, Luke Flanagan, Joe McDade, Garrett Cavanagh and Brandon Horan will be hoping to become permanent fixtures in the side in the years ahead.

Defensively, Fermanagh should be solid with Johnny Cassidy, McCusker and McMahon all strong performers while Donnelly has plenty of options around the middle third.

The manager’s main concern, though, will be making sure that his side get enough scores on the board to win games although in the likes of Quigley, Ciaran Corrigan and Darragh McGurn they do carry a threat in attack.

Fermanagh open their campaign with a tough home game against Antrim and with four of their next six games away from home, they will be targeting a winning start.

This is an intriguing division in which every team will begin with hopes of promotion but there is certainly enough quality in the Fermanagh squad to be in the mix at the top come the end of the campaign.

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