Erne success is worth the wait
Fermanagh 1-13 Antrim 0-08
After two previous weekends of skin and hair flying from Ballybofey to Breffni Park, we got served something a little more genteel here in Brewster Park, Fermanagh easing clear of Antrim to record their first win in the Ulster Championship in five years.
They hardly had to work for it in fairness, a red card awarded to Sean McVeigh gifting them an extra man after 31 minutes. Fermanagh's Ciaran Flaherty was making progress down the wing but after Kieran McGourty put the initial tackle in, McVeigh's elbow shot into Flaherty's face. After consulting with linesman Brendan Rice, referee Maurice Deegan awarded a red.
It was a development the home side desperately needed. Ten minutes before, they lost their most creative forward Ruairi Corrigan with a re-occurrence of a hamstring injury that affected him in the Division Three final. And in the play before that, Ryan McCluskey was withdrawn, with his knee flaring up.
Pete McGrath entrusted the free man role to 20-year-old Championship debutant James McMahon and he played it like a grizzled veteran. And it bears pointing out that Antrim's second point from Kieran McGourty on 13 minutes was the final time they would score from play, the remainder of their points coming from McGourty's younger brother CJ.
Fermanagh boss Pete McGrath reasoned: "I think both teams were playing with a lot of caution in the first half, a lot of apprehension almost and it wasn't really until we got our game going in the second half, we got a bit of fluency."
Expected to mark Fermanagh dangerman Sean Quigley, Antrim instead placed Sean McVeigh at midfield to negate the high-catching Richie O'Callaghan. Conor Burke got the Quigley brief. Antrim would bring every player back into their own half after this, but Fermanagh were able to carve out a bit of a lead before half-time with Quigley's first free, and he turned provider to Barry Mulrone soon after. They also might have had a penalty shout when a Quigley delivery found Tomás Corrigan isolated on Niall Delargy, but Delargy unceremoniously hauled Corrigan to the turf.
Although it was a certain black card, Deegan this time kept his cards in his pocket and chose not to talk to the umpires. The half ended shortly after with Fermanagh 0-6 to 0-4 ahead.
Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimons brought on the impressive Jack Dowling who caught numerous kickouts around the middle.
Three consecutive Fermanagh points, two frees from Quigley either side of a booming effort from midfielder Ryan Jones had them breathing more easily.
Conor McGourty would occasionally lance over a free off the ground, but the awards came from a mixture of questionable refereeing and kicks moved forward after a bout of backchat.
Antrim dragged the margin back to two points with ten minutes to go, but Fermanagh's fitness and extra man set them up for a grandstand finish.
A Daniel Kille spectacular, Paul McCusker point and a Quigley free came within two minutes of each other and the game was all but over when a through ball bobbled through to Kille who got a sight on goal only to be fouled with a foot block by Delargy.
Quigley calmly strolled up to the penalty, sending goalkeeper Chris Kerr the wrong way to leave Fermanagh home by double scores with the last play of the game.
They will now face neighbours Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final on June 21.
Malachy O'Rourke sat in the stands here, the man who had done more than any other to deliver Fermanagh's first-ever Ulster title when he brought them to a drawn final in 2008. He now faces a job of detachment to knock out his own county and get Monaghan back to their third Ulster final in a row.
FERMANAGH: C Snow; M Jones, N Cassidy, M O'Brien; D McCusker, R McCluskey, J McMahon; R Jones 0-3, R O'Callaghan; B Mulrone 0-2, C Flaherty 0-1, P McCusker 0-1; T Corrigan, S Quigley 1-4, (1-0 Pen, 4f), R Corrigan
Subs: D Kille 0-1 for R Corrigan (22), A Breen for McCluskey (30)
Yellow cards: Jones (38), P McCusker (44), Mulrone (54), O'Callaghan (66)
ANTRIM: C Kerr; R Johnson, S McVeigh, C Burke; J Crozier, T Scullion, N Delargy; C Murray, M Sweeney; J Laverty, O Gallagher, P McBride; K McGourty 0-1, M Pollock, R Murray 0-1
Subs: CJ McGourty 0-6 (6f) for Pollock (25), D Lynch for Gallagher (HT), J Dowling for McBride (HT), C Duffin for R Johnson (53), N O'Neill for Sweeney (62), D McAleese for R Murray (62)
Yellow cards: Scullion (44), Dowling (57)
Red cards: McVeigh (31)
Referee: Maurice Deegan (Laois)