McGrath retains hope as Ulster trio battle against drop
Three Ulster sides will fight for their Division Two lives on Sunday in the Allianz Football League - and two of them will go head-to-head in a desperate bid to regain a modicum of credibility.
Fermanagh never would have thought when they scurried past Down in the opening round of fixtures that they would be staring into the relegation abyss as the competition reaches its climax.
Nor did Derry contemplate that their hoped-for renaissance would prove nothing more than wishful thinking and that they too would be confronted by life in a lower tier.
That's the intimidating backdrop to this weekend's clash between the sides at Brewster Park, Enniskillen, while Down, similarly impotent in what has been a hugely competitive division, must make the long haul to Cork seeking belated redemption for their transgressions to date.
For Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath, who steered Down to All-Ireland glory in 1991 and 1994, Sunday's confrontation with the Oak Leaf men is an unwanted yet highly emotive mission.
Even before a ball was kicked in last Sunday's surprisingly heavy loss to Meath (3-15 to 0-6), Fermanagh had been dogged by ill-luck.
A pulled calf muscle ruled out in-form scoring ace Tomás Corrigan, while a shoulder injury ensured that the emerging Eoin McManus played no part in a contest in which his versatility and creativity would undoubtedly have cushioned the Ernesiders.
Both players are likely to be ruled out again this weekend which will impose further pressure on the beleaguered Fermanagh side.
Understandably, Rostrevor man McGrath thought his side had turned the corner when they beat Clare the previous weekend having suffered defeats against Galway, Cork and Kildare in the wake of their opening day victory against Down.
And the Erne boss wasn't offering excuses when he revealed prior to the Meath match that luck was not quite on his team's side.
"Tomás Corrigan could miss the game and Eoin McManus is likely to be out for a while with a shoulder injury," said McGrath.
"Tomás has been scoring well for us and Eoin has been looking very comfortable at centre-half-forward.
"His injury is most unfortunate as he had just come back after overcoming a hamstring problem.
"Sean Quigley showed a good scoring touch in the win over Clare and that got us across the line on that occasion. But we will need everyone to step up to the mark."
It was the lack of firepower against Meath that gave McGrath cause for concern. Fermanagh scored only three points from play and one of these came from defender Kane Connor while another was from midfield ace Lee Cullen.
The Ernesiders now hope for a change of fortune as they face the challenge of meeting a hungry Derry side that languish at the bottom of the table with three points.
Slaughtneil trio Brendan Rogers, Chrissy McKaigue and Padraig Cassidy made their first appearances in the county colours in the defeat to Cork and are likely to again help form the central spine of the side against McGrath's men.
Like Fermanagh, Derry are scrambling for survival having leaked 11-90 in their six matches to date.
Not surprisingly, given this statistic, manager Damian Barton has no difficulty in pinpointing what he feels has been his team's major drawback during the league.
"Defence is the key. When sides are attacking you from half-back and can get in behind you then they become very hard to stop," stated Barton.
"I think that the return of the Slaughtneil players gave us a bit of stability, but you can't leak 20 points in a game and expect to get something out of it.
"We face a huge test of character in this game against Fermanagh.
"The hope is that we can play to the best of our ability and come out on the right side."
Down, meanwhile, make the long journey to Cork knowing that it will take a win to give them any hope of copper-fastening their place in Division Two for 2018.
Manager Eamonn Burns is seeking a greater spread of scorers from within his side.
"We know we need to win this match and we have been working on things this week," stated Burns.