Kelm sets sights on silverware after return to Erne county action

Ultan Kelm's match-winning goal against Longford has set up a Tailteann Cup quarter-final clash with Cavan at Brewster Park 
Niall Keenan

FERMANAGH'S Ultan Kelm made his return to inter-county action as the Erne County edged out Longford at Glennon Brothers Pearse Park last Saturday to set up a quarter-final clash with Cavan.

A recurring hip injury kept the 22-year-old out for the entirety of the Allianz National League campaign and the Ulster Championship exit at the hands of Tyrone and he was a late call-up after Richard O’Callaghan, who suffered a hamstring injury, was ruled out after a fitness test on Saturday morning and it was his 70th minute goal that ultimately proved decisive as Kieran Donnelly's side ran out 1-12 to 0-12 winners.

"It was great to be back involved and playing," he said.

"I don’t think you realise how much you miss it until your back out playing. You can’t beat playing Championship football.

"It was just a matter of getting across the line and into the next round so we are delighted we did that. We started the game poorly and let Longford get into a few point lead too easily but I felt as the game progressed we grew into it and started to play to our strengths."

Belleek man Kelm had put pen to paper to sign for AFL outfit Fremantle Dockers last October but his injury crisis derailed his hopes of heading down under.

The 21-year-old had been keen to try his hand in Australia ever since bursting onto the senior scene with his county in 2019.

AFL clubs had been keeping tabs on Kelm since he caught the eye of recruiters at the Europe Combine in Dublin in December 2019.

Kelm ran the 20m sprint in 2.87 seconds – the joint-fastest time at all AFL combines between 2014 and 2019 - and was invited to attend trials in Melbourne back in April 2020 before the pandemic intervened.

He marked his return to action with an appearance in the GAA's Tailteann Cup team of the week alongside teammate and captain Declan McCusker and will be hoping that their journey can continue but knows it won't be an easy task.

"Cavan are bookies favourites so if we want to win it, we know we have to beat them at some stage. We are no strangers to Cavan and they’re no strangers to ourselves or Brewster Park. There hasn’t been anything between us in recent years so it will be just a matter of who gets it right in the day."
The Ernemen have introduced a raft of youngsters this year with only seven players who started the 2018 Ulster final defeat to Donegal still playing, while goalkeeper from that day Pat Cadden is now part of the backroom team.

During the League, Fermanagh started seven players aged 23 or under on average with the average of the panel just 24.

Following the recent departures of Cullen brothers Che and Lee, Barry Mulrone, Michael Jones, Paul McCusker, Seamus Quigley and Eoin Donnelly captain McCusker and the ever-present Ryan Jones, both 31, along with Richie O'Callaghan (30) are the only three players on the panel beyond the age of 29.

Former Fermanagh player Donnelly was installed as manager in October following Ryan McMenamin's resignation with Ferghal Quinn and Erne stalwart Ryan McCluskey joining the Brookeborough man in the dugout tasked with developing a fresh crop of talent.

His side flirted with promotion from Division Three before finishing fifth in the table; although the league campaign did prove a useful experience for the young team and they certainly seem hungry for success but their mettle will be extemely tested by a Cavan side who recently climbed the steps to clinch Division Four in impressive albeit expected fashion back in April.

The Breffni County just fell short in their quest to regain the Ulster title when the 2020 provincial winners were pipped by Donegal in the semi-final of the Ulster Championship and they are the bookies favourites to take home the inaugural Tailteann Cup.

With a semi-final berth at stake, Kelm isn't looking beyond Mickey Graham's men:

"We aren’t looking any further on than Cavan and we know the challenge that lies in front of us. Every team is very evenly matched in the Tailteann Cup so there won’t be any easy games. It’s just a matter of taking it week on week and making sure to show up when it matters."

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