Fermanagh seek return of lost form as Laois make trip to Brewster Park
Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final: Fermanagh v Laois (Saturday, Brewster Park, 6pm)
SINCE clinching promotion to Division Two, Fermanagh’s form has dipped and they need to return to their old ways in this winner-takes-all showdown.
A heavy defeat against Derry on their home patch in the Ulster Championship obviously dented the Ernemen’s confidence and getting pipped at the post by Antrim last weekend was a sure sign that Kieran Donnelly has work to do to steady the ship if his county is to reach the latter stages of this competition.
Despite last weekend’s loss, Fermanagh are “100 per cent” favourites according to Billy Sheehan but the Laois manager warns that his O’Mooremen will be “ready to go” when the ball is thrown in.
After the retirements of household names like Colm Begley, John O’Loughlin, Ross Munnelly, Donie Kingston and Gary Walsh among others, Laois are in the midst of a rebuilding phase.
Playing in fits and starts cost them crucial results in the League and that inconsistent form continued in this competition. Playing in Group One, Laois began with a loss to Cavan but looked home-and-hosed against Offaly until a late fightback from the Faithful County restricted them to a draw which turned last Saturday’s final game against London boiled into a knockout showdown.
Laois scored the first seven points and at one stage led 11-3. London had closed the gap to six points (0-11 to 0-5) at the interval but an early 1-1 (former Derry skipper Enda Lynn got the Exiles’ goal from a penalty) changed the dynamic of the game.
London held a one-point lead – which would have been enough to see them through and knock Laois out – with the game deep in injury-time but a point from former goalkeeper Niall Corbett salvaged a draw for the O’Mooremen who survived by the skin of their teeth.
“We were down by two points after 72 minutes and you have to give the boys credit for sticking in there and dogging out the draw – if we hadn’t got it we were out of the competition,” said Sheehan.
“This is the last-chance saloon, it was knockout football against London and it’ll be knockout football against Fermanagh too.”
Fermanagh were caught twice on the finishing straight in their group games. First a Wexford late show saw the Ernemen take a point from a game they could have won and, after a nine-point win against Leitrim, Kieran Donnelly’s side conceded two late goals against Antrim last Sunday which meant they missed out on an automatic qualification to the quarter-finals.
“I managed up in Brewster Park last year and we got a lesson off Fermanagh (3-15 to 3-9) that day,” said Sheehan.
“They were very good up there and it’s a difficult place to go to. They were promoted this year so they’re a Division Two team now and we’re in Division Four so it’s a tough task. You’d have to 100 per cent put them as favourites for this game but we’ll be ready to go when it comes down to it.
“We’ve played 13 games this year and we’ve won six and drawn three. The four we lost, we lost two of them by two points, against Cavan we were in a good position but then a decision went against us. So in 13 games we’ve been there or thereabouts in 12. If the three draws and the two losses by two points had gone for us then all of a sudden we’re having a great season but they didn’t.”
Having lost so many experienced campaigners, Sheehan is bringing through a young team and says the new faces are performing well in a competition that will allow them to develop.
“It’s a great competition,” he says.
“The outside perspective might be that we’re giving lads a go and all that but all the counties go out to win and when they do they’re buzzing. People might say: ‘Oh, it’s a learning competition’ but it’s not, it’s the level you’re at in the Championship and you’ve got to respect it.”
This is a banana skin for Fermanagh and they will be tested but on home turf and at full-strength they have the tools to progress to the last eight.