New Fermanagh manager John O’Neill had laid meticulously plans for his team’s Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup tie against UUJ at Enniskillen on Saturday night.
Now, instead of launching their campaign against the students the Ernesiders will take their bow in the competition next weekend against a Tyrone side that is almost certain to contain at least 10 of the starting line-up that played in the Ulster final victory over Monaghan last July.
Despite the enormity of the task confronting his team, O’Neill is far from apprehensive. Indeed, he is relishing the prospect of crossing swords with Mickey Harte’s seasoned warriors.
“We will be beginning our Division Four programme in the National League early next month and we would need to be getting a few matches against quality opposition under our belts in preparation for this,” he said.
“We will be meeting Tyrone, Donegal and UUJ in our scheduled McKenna Cup matches and I see this as the ideal build-up to the league.”
With 18 new players in his squad, a new skipper in Barry Owens and a reinvigorated overall approach O’Neill is anxious to turn Fermanagh’s fortunes around.
“We got to the All-Ireland semi-finals in 2004 and were unfortunate to lose to Mayo,” he said.
“There are still a lot of fine footballers here in Fermanagh and it is our task to find a consistent winning blend. We would see promotion to Division Three of the league as very much a priority.”
If his team can produce an encouraging performance against Tyrone, O’Neill believes that this could prove the catalyst for better things ahead.
“If you want to make real progress, you have to gauge yourself against teams like Tyrone who have seen and done it all since 2003. I know my lads will be up for the challenge,” adds O’Neill.
He will be without his Lisnaskea contingent of Mark Little, Danny Killie, Ciaran Flaherty and Johnny Woods who are preparing for their club’s All Ireland Intermediate semi-final on January 30. Tommy McElroy, Tomas Corrigan and Kevin Cosgrave may also be absentees.