Fermanagh prepared for a different, big challenge against Ulster rivals Antrim

Antrim's Kevin Small and Joe McDade of Fermanagh battle for the ball.
Antrim's Kevin Small and Joe McDade of Fermanagh battle for the ball.

Allianz Football League Division Three, round four: Antrim v Fermanagh (Corrigan Park, 2pm today)

FERMANAGH might have often proved themselves better than Antrim in recent times, but Erne boss Kieran Donnelly knows this is very much a different challenge – and a big one.

The Saffrons may have lost their Division Three opener at home to Offaly, and then slipped to an unfortunate defeat away to Down, but Donnelly was impressed enough even before Andy McEntee's men won in Tipperary last weekend.

The sheer physique of many of players the former Meath manager has selected for Antrim is clearly evident, noted Donnelly:

"It totally is [a different challenge]. I was at that game Offaly myself, we have watched them, and they definitely have size.

"They played well [against Tipperary], moved the ball well. They've racked up big scores too. They'll have a bounce from winning in Tipperary and it's a very quick turnaround time."

Donnelly also has the bitter memory of his first league match in charge of his native county, at Brewster Park in Enniskillen to boot, ending a nine-point thumping by Antrim, 0-8 to 1-14.

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Fermanagh had a solid campaign after that, with two wins and two draws in the League, before troubling Tyrone in the Ulster SFC.

This season, though, they appear to have taken another step or two forward, with a comfortable opening win over Longford, a last-gasp loss down in Offaly, and then a thrilling – and deserved – win over Down in Ederney.

Of course, Antrim really should have beaten the Mournemen in Newry in the previous round, so as lines of form go this game could be too close to call.

Donnelly is happy that this afternoon's clash has come around so quickly, commenting: "That's the beauty and the brilliance of the league: it's week on week, the boys look forward to it, it's more focussed on games than training. That's what county players want because they're in such good condition. We look forward to it."

The Brookeborough man is likely to adopt a 'horses for courses' approach again. With Down the opposition there was a need for speed.

Against Antrim, Fermanagh will require more physicality and experience, so skipper Declan McCusker might come back in, and Sean Quigley – who came off the bench to coolly palm in the injury-time winning goal against Down – could get more minutes on the pitch.

Besides the much-needed victory, Antrim's win also included the bonus of not conceding any goals, after leaking two against both Offaly and Down.

As Donnelly pointed out, the Saffrons also scored 1-19 in Tipperary, almost as much as they managed (2-17) in their harsh defeat against Down.

Arguably that's the only reason Fermanagh are ahead of Antrim this year: the Saffrons couldn't hold on to beat Down whereas the Ernemen conjured up a late winning goal themselves to deny the Mournemen another smash and grab win.

This afternoon's latest all-Ulster tussle could effectively end Antrim's hopes of going up, or put them right in the mix along with Fermanagh and Down for the chance to keep up with pace-setters Cavan.