Fermanagh boss Kieran Donnelly: "The players can all hold their heads up high"

"Brandon Horan has been excellent for us all year," said Kieran Donnelly
"Brandon Horan has been excellent for us all year," said Kieran Donnelly

THE season ended out with back-to-back losses in the Tailteann Cup but Fermanagh have to take the positives from their achievements and learn from their defeats, says manager Kieran Donnelly.

The Ernemen sealed promotion to Division Two with six wins and a single defeat and getting to the second tier, where they’ll mixing it with Armagh, Donegal, Cork, Louth, Meath, Cavan and Kildare, will allow the squad to develop at a higher level next year.

Reaching Division Two stretched the limited resources of the county and Fermanagh were unable to raise a gallop in the Championship. In Ulster, eventual champions Derry were too strong in a one-sided quarter-final at Brewster Park and, although Donnelly’s side began the Tailteann Cup as one of the favourites, the sparkle of the early months of this year never returned.

The competition began with a home draw against Division Four outfit Wexford, then there was victory in Leitrim but Fermanagh were out-gunned by Antrim in the closing stages of their third round tie and losing to the Saffrons at the Athletic Grounds meant they had to win last Saturday’s play-off against Laois to progress to the quarter-finals.

The fired-up O’Mooremen bossed the first half and although 14-man Fermanagh rallied in the second period and took the lead on a couple of occasions they lost by two points. The result ended the year on a sour note but Donnelly says his young squad will bounce back next season.

“We’re young and they’ve all gained experience,” he said.

“That’s the one thing with this group, they have learned throughout the League and there’s learning in this (losing in the Tailteann Cup) and they will evolve. The likes of Brandon Horan playing midfield is very young and he’s come up against players that are maybe 28-29 in that middle sector and he has been excellent for us all year.

“Those players can all hold their heads up high and we will look to push on. We have to do that as a county. I think people maybe had us as favourites for relegation to Division Four at the start of the year so that (promotion) was a massive positive from our players and we have to regroup and take that on board going forward.”

Fermanagh began well against Laois and a superb solo effort from inspirational full-back Che Cullen gave them an early lead but the red card shown to midfielder Ryan Jones for an off-the-ball incident was a setback they were unable to recover from.

The sides swapped goals in the second half – Mark Timmons for Laois, Sean Quigley for the home side – but the Leinster outfit finished strongly and advanced to a quarter-final against Limerick.

“They’re a great group of players,” said Donnelly.

“We had a real good League and we felt we would take that into the Championship and have a bounce (from it) but it just didn’t materialise. We missed chances from the start (against Laois) and our confidence after 10-15 minutes seemed to slip. The sending-off was a major turning point in the game, especially in the heat.

“Our players responded really well at half-time, you couldn’t fault them to a man. We showed real courage and conviction but it just wasn’t enough.”