Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Fermanagh up for the cup

Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey (left)

A year ago, Fermanagh were patching their wounds in public after the dramatic fall-out from the John O'Neill era.

Peter Canavan had been appointed manager, but they were left without time to conduct a rigorous pre-season.

The spotlight may not shine so brightly now on the men in green, but their McKenna Cup season opener on January 9 will be sprinkled with stardust when All-Ireland champions Donegal roll into town.

Donegal assistant manager Rory Gallagher has already insisted it will be a skeleton team, with the panel only returning from their team holiday to Dubai the day before the match.

Having played against a number of the Donegal fringe players in the recent Match for Michaela while lining out for Ulster at corner-back, Fermanagh captain Ryan McCluskey has sounded a note of caution for anyone indulging in hubris.

“You want to play against the best side, against the majority of the side that competed in the All-Ireland series last year, but given the way their mentality has changed over the past couple of years, the lads that do come out will be looking to lay down some kind of a marker,” said the Enniskillen Gaels clubman.

“Some of their other squad members were in good shape and good condition and proved that they weren't in the squad for the sake of being there.”

With the physical training of the Donegal side over the past two years delivering impressive results, a range of other counties, including neighbouring Fermanagh, have adopted the ‘more is more' philosophy.

For McCluskey, a man fanatical about his own preparation and training, it was a welcome development.

“We have had the chance to get a bit of pre-season work. That's what we needed and last year we went through the McKenna Cup without any real pre-season work.

“This year we don't have any excuses. That's the bottom line.

“We have got to do what any of the top sides have done over the last few years in terms of hitting the ground running.

“We were under no illusions last year when things had started late.

“We knew where we were, we knew ourselves that we had a lot of work to do.”

Having been knocked out of the All-Ireland series at the first round, the Erne men were back on the training field early on.

A fundraising weekend has also taken up a lot of time for the panel.

The feedback around the county since, according to McCluskey, has been excellent and represents a mature panel taking on responsibility for their development.

“It opened everybody's eyes for those that were involved about the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes for everything to run smoothly.

“Lads will appreciate things more from this day on.”