Fermanagh boss Malachy faces up to cold facts of reality
The recent bitter winds that carried the worst snowfalls we have experienced in almost 30 years also bore additional heartache for Fermanagh manager Malachy O’Rourke.
If the climatic conditions presented their own problems within the Lakeland county, then his team’s depressing National League campaign that culminated in relegation to Division Four left O’Rourke prone to icy blasts from several quarters.
Thus it was with some trepidation that his side, which included four debutants and with morale severely dented, embarked on the Ulster Championship trail against Cavan earlier this month.
Yet when referee Pat Fox sounded the whistle at the end of a rivetting contest in Kingspan Breffni Park, Fermanagh were suddenly being viewed in a new light.
The Ernesiders deserved 1-13 to 0-13 victory — their first-ever success in the Championship over Cavan — dramatically altered not just the mood in their camp but the provincial landscape overall.
And now as they prepare to face Monaghan in Sunday’s semi-final back at the same venue, Fermanagh are happy to accept that the expectation level has been raised with O’Rourke articulating their desire to bring much more to the table.
“Let’s be honest, we were not really able to field a settled team during the league because of injuries, the unavailability of players for other reasons and suspensions,” he said.
The fact that we were relegated hurt us and our followers and obviously was not the best precursor to the Championship. But that win over Cavan has restored our belief although I would emphasise that the performance on that occasion would be nowhere near sufficient to beat this Monaghan side who showed against Armagh just how lethal they can be,” points out O’Rourke.
His gamble of thrusting four debutants in against Cavan paid handsome dividends as did his ploy of positioning Ryan McCluskey as his defensive anchor and leaning on Ryan Carson as the fulcrum of his attack.
“Things went quite well for us against Cavan you would have to say but Monaghan will be a massive test. Any team that can beat Armagh by 12 points has to be respected. My hope was that by the time we played our first Championship match we would have a more settled team with the right balance and we would appear to be getting there,” states O’Rourke.
Having retained their place in Division One, Monaghan will now be playing a side three tiers below them — and O’Rourke is very conscious of this.
“Monaghan have been used to playing against the best sides in the country and they have been showing the benefits of this. We have been getting some criticism because we were not able to get big enough scores in the league so the 1-13 we got against Cavan in the quarter-final is a major source of encouragement,” he said.