Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

Fermanagh confident of right result

John Woods (right) is certain that Fermanagh can seize chance of promotion to Division Two
John Woods (right) is certain that Fermanagh can seize chance of promotion to Division Two

The task ahead is beautiful in its simplicity. It's Fermanagh against Meath in Navan. Avoid defeat, and Peter Canavan will have presided over successive promotions from the depths of Division Four to Division Two.

And yet, with that tantalising prospect within reach, Erne corner back John Woods insists that the expectation will all be on the home side to deliver come Sunday's showdown.

After relegation to Division Three last year, Meath have steadied themselves under Mick O'Dowd to leave promotion in their own hands on the final day of the season. Their need to gain full points against Fermanagh however, could be their undoing, Woods believes.

"The pressure would all be on Meath," he states.

"They were the favourites to top the group, I'd say that was easily most people's perceptions of them. Even they would see themselves as definitely Division Two, maybe Division One quality."

As is typical of players assessing league performances, the Lisnaskea defender states the initial aim was to cement their place in Division Three, before mounting a promotion bid. However, it has been noticeable to Fermanagh observers this season how much they appear to be coming out of their shell and enjoying their football more.

"That's down to Peter Canavan as well as having a strong squad," says Woods, referring to Fermanagh's good run despite losing four players throughout the campaign to broken bones.

"It would nearly be harder to become a polished product as players drop out – obviously those who are playing the games would have had optimum fitness because they were playing, but they (players) came in and fitted into whatever system was being played.

"The performances have been better, more polished and ruthless in certain ways. More ruthless in defence and keeping it tighter," he says.

"Personally, vouching for myself, it is more enjoyable. In that way, you can't beat training to improve your performance because boys feel better mentally. Going into a game you won't think that you will not be fit enough or strong enough. Boys have that confidence, they have that bounce in their step because they are fully-conditioned."

Under the present regime, Woods has established himself as a regular corner-back. Having scored one of the goals of the 2011 Championship season against Derry, his ability to push out of defence along with Declan McCusker has been an evolutionary sign.

Turning his attention to the management team, he states: "In regards to Peter (Canavan), Kieran (Donnelly, team trainer) and Lorcan (Martin, conditioning coach), everything is being done to the very last detail.

"It's all about looking after your own personal performance and the games will look after themselves."

At the beginning of the league campaign, Fermanagh had been priced at 4/7 favourites for relegation.

It was based on the logic that while they made a lively start to the 2012 league campaign, they fell away badly after a heavy defeat in the Division Four final to Wicklow, before limping out of the Championship with defeats to Down and Cavan.

It didn't go unnoticed by the panel, who underwent a heavy and sustained pre-season and stored it up for motivation during the winter nights spent driving to gyms and training sessions.

Now, it boils down to this. A one-off Championship-style game of winner-takes-all. Operating at this level is where Fermanagh want to be, according to Woods.

"The difference in marking a forward from Kilkenny, London, teams like that, is a world away from marking boys like Ciaran McManus.

"In the Championship you are not going to be shocked at the Division One, Division Two-type Ulster corner-forward," he says. "From my position, that goes right through the whole team, to boys in midfield against stronger, more athletic midfielders.

"It will test them more coming into the Championship."

Right now, they have an erratic Meath to deal with, but Woods offers a suggestion for their schizophrenic performances, most notably early defeats to Monaghan and Cavan.

"Perhaps they were doing tough training sessions early on, maybe they were wanting to peak for the Championship and using the league for blooding players," he says.

"They have found Ulster opposition – bar maybe Antrim – a bit of a struggle so maybe they are not used to that style of play. But they are on the ground running now so it will be a tight encounter."

Not since the second year of Malachy O'Rourke's reign have Fermanagh been in the second tier of football, having got used to it and even a couple of spins in Division One under Charlie Mulgrew.

Sunday's encounter is a door waiting to be kicked down.

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