Tommy McElroy was undoubtedly one of Fermanagh’s best players throughout 2008.
His consistency at left-half-back had much to do with his team’s promotion in the National League and their arrival in the Ulster final.
But while McElroy accepted the plaudits, he was conscious that Fermanagh had failed to deliver silverware.
Now he’s strongly focused on attempting to bring the Ernesiders to a new high, starting with victory over Down at Enniskillen tomorrow.
And even though Fermanagh found themselves hurtling back into Division Three at the end of the league, McElroy believes that benefits accrued from the team’s programme in the competition that have yet to be fully realised.
“I think the fact that we used a lot of players over the course of the league will now stand to us in the championship. Sure, we were disappointed that some of our big players were missing but nearly everyone is back on board now and we are fired up for meeting Down,” insists McElroy.
While the impact that some of the new kids on the block made was decisive, McElroy does not ignore the fact that Fermanagh’s demotion left a scar on morale.
“I think we have to accept that it did but equally, we must just focus on our next match. Down is the only thing on our minds right now,” points out McElroy.
In reaching that decider, Fermanagh played with a refreshing sense of adventure and underlined their defensive strengths. But McElroy warns that they will need to be even better-equipped for the this 2009 campaign.
“You would have to say that Down have been flying since they won promotion in the league and also reached the All Ireland Under 21 final in which they were very unlucky to have fallen to Cork by a point. They have players who have come through strongly,” says McElroy.
Like his playing colleagues, he is anxious to offer firm evidence that Fermanagh have absorbed lessons from last year.
“We will concentrate on our own strengths and try and not worry too much about the opposition. That’s really all we can do and hope that things work out for us. This game against Down is a big contest for us and it is one that we need to win,” adds McElroy.
Manager Malachy O’Rourke has overlooked Shane Goan, Ryan McCluskey and Niall Bogue in his defensive set-up for tomorrow’s game underlining the strength in depth he has at his disposal in terms of rearguard options.
Shane McDermott, who captained the team when they reached the All Ireland semi-final in 2004, is again at centre-half-back while Damien Kelly has recovered from injury and is included at right-half-back.
Peter Sherry, doubtful earlier in the week because of injury, and Hugh Brady will fill the corner back berths, flanking Shane Lyons who has been doing a fine job in the No 3 shirt since Barry Owens has been ruled out because of knee damage
And with Daryl Keenan and Ryan Carson set to make their debuts up front, the Ernesiders offer a fresh dimension.
FERMANAGH: C Breen; P Sherry, S Lyons, H Brady; D kelly, S McDermott, T McElroy; M McGrath, J Sherry; D Keenan, C McElroy, M Little; R Keenan, R Carson, E maguire.