All Ireland Football Qualifiers: Fermanagh guru plots their downfall against Armagh
Fermanagh’s bid to launch their championship rehabilitation when they host Armagh in the second round of the All Ireland Football Championship Qualifiers at Brewster Park, Enniskillen on Sunday may yet be sabotaged by one of their own.
Mike McGurn, a native of the Erne county who spent eight years as the Ireland rugby team’s strength and conditioning coach, will be doing his best to plot Fermanagh’s downfall in his current role as part of Paddy O’Rourke’s Armagh management team.
McGurn is one of the most renowned fitness gurus in these islands. As well as his work with the IRFU, the Ospreys, Hull’s rugby and soccer teams he also helped boxer Bernard Dunne become Super Bantamweight World Champion last year.
Now on the football field, where he admits he heart has always lay, McGurn’s input into Armagh’s strength and conditioning programme to date has helped to bring promotion to Division One of the National League and now he is hoping that the side can complement this by making significant progress through the Qualifiers.
It was the detailed individual winter fitness programme which McGurn, who was a guest at Brian O’Driscoll’s lavish and star-studded wedding in Leitrim at the weekend, mapped out for each player in the squad that proved instrumental in allowing Armagh to bring the physicality and power to the table that was to undermine their league elevation.
But Armagh’s subsequent attempt to land what would have been an eighth Ulster title in eleven years was derailed by Monaghan after Derry had been beaten in the preliminary round.
However, an emphatic nine-point win over Donegal in the first round of the Qualifiers has convinced McGurn that there is much more left in the Orchard County’s tank.
“We were obviously not happy with our performance against Monaghan but we remedied that to some extent against Donegal,” insists McGurn who resides in west Belfast.
“We have injury worries but we are not going to make a drama out of a crisis.
“We realise that we are going in against a Fermanagh side who have not lost a championship match on their own turf in eight years and we know that this will stand them in good stead when they meet us.”
While he still retains strong links with his home town of Enniskillen — his wife Ciara also hails from there — McGurn is now fiercely committed to the Armagh cause.
“I gave an undertaking to Paddy O’Rourke that I would do everything to try and help him bring Armagh forward,” stresses McGurn.
“Apart from that championship defeat by Monaghan it has been a case of, so far so good.
“The Armagh players have been giving me great commitment while I have been here and we are hopeful that we can now make headway through the Qualifiers.”
His wife and young son Eoin will be suitably garbed in the orange of Armagh for Sunday’s highly-anticipated contest — an indication of the family’s commitment to their adopted county, despite their background.
“I have to set sentiment to the one side for this one,” says McGurn, whose close affinity for GAA in the county is evident by the fact that his uncle Joe is a past chairman of the Fermanagh county board.
“My focus is totally on trying to help Armagh get over this hurdle and into the next round of the Qualifiers.
“I know that some people tend to downplay home advantage in the championship but you can take it from me that every side would like to play each game on their own patch.
“They are more comfortable there and I have no doubt that Fermanagh would rather be playing in Brewster Park than having to travel to Crossmaglen.”
And McGurn is preparing for some friendly fire from members of his family on Sunday.
“I will be looked on as being in the opposition camp,” smiles McGurn.
“But I have my role to fulfil and I will be doing this to the best of my ability. Fermanagh have some very good players, a fine manager in Malachy O’Rourke and a go-ahead county board.
“On Sunday, though, I’ll be trying to scupper their plans to make further progress for Armagh, this year at least.”