Ernemen eye last four as Down humbled
Down 0-08 - Fermanagh 0-14
The fare on offer may have been some distance removed from Allianz League expectations and even further away from Championship standards but Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath was happy to embrace the positives as his side took a decisive step towards the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup semi-final at Down's expense yesterday.
Workmanlike and tenacious, the Ernesiders retained their focus throughout a foul-strewn encounter galvanised by the accuracy of Sean Quigley and further bolstered by the solid experience of Declan McCusker, Barry Mulrone, Tomas Corrigan and Michael Jones in particular.
Afterwards, McGrath expressed satisfaction with the performance but warned of future challenges.
"We got the chance to play football as conditions were much better on this occasion and we were very good in patches," said McGrath. "We got some good scores at critical times and I thought we were in control from the start but it is still early days and there are major tasks ahead."
His Down counterpart Eamonn Burns, though, was left to sift through a performance that he felt was well below-par.
"Fermanagh were better organised than us but overall I was disappointed," declared Burns.
"At the same time, there were some positives. I thought we moved the ball well but we were unable to get enough scores."
Fermanagh's greater appetite, cohesion and commitment were very much in evidence. McGrath's men dominated the first quarter, their incisive running and ability to exploit space serving to keep the Down defence at full stretch.
Corrigan and Quigley formed a potent twin strike force and after the former and Daniel Teague had potted early points, Quigley cemented Fermanagh's authority with a point from a long-rage free before Corrigan whipped over another score to leave his side in an even more commanding position.
But Down eventually managed to prise open the visitors' defence and between the 20th and 25th minutes roared back into the game through a brace of Daragh O'Hanlon points from frees and another from Sean Dornan.
They scored only once more prior to the break - a Conor Maginn point in the 35th minute - whereas Fermanagh made a series of counter-thrusts tell when Corrigan, Ryan Hanna, McCusker and the busy Mulrone posted points to send their side in 0-8 to 0-4 to the good at the break.
Despite their penchant for surrendering the ball too easily, Down were only three points adrift at 0-9 to 0-6 in the 42nd minute but when Quigley stepped into the spotlight to seal his man of the match performance by piloting over the next four points, he effectively put the game out of the Mournemen's reach.
At 0-13 to 0-6, Fermanagh had taken control once more and although Stephen Kane's assured goalkeeping, Conor Maginn's relentless energy and creative flair and Ryan Mallon's willingness to break forward cushioned Down to some extent, the team as a whole lacked conviction and polish.
It was left to feisty substitute Arthur McConville to provide a ration of gloss to the home side's closing efforts by snapping up two fine points but these paled into insignificance when Quigley almost nonchalantly stroked over his sixth point of the contest to copper-fasten Fermanagh's victory.
Even a point from their game against Donegal on Wednesday night will give Fermanagh a place in the semi-finals and thus offer manager McGrath an extra game as he continues to fashion his line-up for what will be a particularly exacting campaign in Division Two of the Allianz League.
Down: S Kane; M Magee, C McGovern, D Turley; D O'Hanlon 0-2 (both frees), R Boyle, J Murphy; C Doyle, M McKay; B O'Hagan 0-1, C Maginn 0-1, J McDermott; G Johnston, S Dornan 0-1, C Mooney 0-1. Subs: M Hughes for McDermott (44), R Mallon for O'Hanlon (45), C Harrison for O'Hagan (51), A McConville 0-2 (1f) for Maginn (57), P Turley for Doyle (57), P Downey for Murphy (Black Carn nmmbmnhjjd 67).
Cards: Yellow: Maginn (18); Black Card: Murphy (67).
Fermanagh: C Snow; D Kelly, M Jones, D Teague 0-1; C Flaherty, J McMahon, A Breen; C Jones, D McCusker 0-1; B Mulrone 0-1, E McManus, P McCusker; R Hanna 0-1, S Quigley 0-6 (3f, 1'45'), T Corrigan 0-3. Subs: P Cadden for Teague (45), K Connor for Flaherty (60), E McHugh for P McCusker (65), F Gillen for Corrigan (67), R Hyde 0-1 for Mulrone (69), S McManus for McMahon (Black Card 70).
Cards: Black Card: McMahon (70).
Referee: Sean Hurson (Tyrone).