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Fermanagh's Ryan Jones in dash to make Donegal clash

By Declan Bogue

It would appear to be the cause célèbre du jour, but the demands of the modern-day player was vividly illustrated in a comment made by Fermanagh's Ryan Jones in the wake of their victory over Derry on Sunday.

Captain for the day in the absence of the recovering Eoin Donnelly, the Derrygonnelly Harps man revealed that he has to make a midday dash tomorrow from his place of work in Belfast to make it for their crucial winner-takes-all final group game against Donegal in Ballybofey.

However, the pharmacist will rely on the goodwill of his employer, Paddy Harte, who is a prominent Tyrone GAA supporter.

"I haven't got the day off yet, but I am hoping," Jones said.

"It's a lot of travelling up to Ballybofey, but what do you do?"

He added: "It's not ideal. Definitely not. It's not even getting up there, it's the time you get back down the road that night.

"This win against Derry will give the boys a boost. Maybe then you don't mind going up the road."

Partnered in the middle third by his brother Conall, Jones was pushed to a more advanced position in the second half to add some physical presence to the half-forward line. With two wins propelling them, he sees the importance of getting even more gametime under their belts before the National League swings into action.

"We need that before we go into the first league game against Louth here on January 31," he admits.

In contrast to the start of last year, Fermanagh are displaying a hard centre, conceding only 1-19 in two games. Their current defensive strategy is something that is an eye-opening departure from the traditional beliefs of manager Pete McGrath, but quite clearly, pragmatism has won out.

"We found last year that we were good going forward, but defensively as a unit - and not just the defence - we were too open," recalled Jones.

"We decided if we want to compete, then the top teams are all doing it, no matter what you think. Even the Dublins, Donegals and Mayos, they are all doing it. You have to change or else you fall behind.

"We have put it in place since we have got back out together, but we are still a long way off where we want to be. A lot of boys are getting an idea of what the system is about and how to move it forward."

Those sentiments were echoed by Erne county manager McGrath, who recalled: "We had defensive issues last year. Attacking last year, we were superb, posting major scores, but conceding major scores as well.

"So we have tried to look at that and tried to get the right balance. I still wouldn't be happy with our attacking play. I think we are still a bit stilted in terms of the lack of balance in the team."

He added: "But you would expect to win a match in which you concede only 1-7, and we did that against Derry."

McGrath's defence was marshalled superbly by teenage full-back James Allen. The Kinawley Brian Borus man held Daniel McKinless, and then his replacement Terence O'Brien, scoreless all day and was especially prominent as Derry tried going both high and low in their pursuit of a late goal to try and claw the game back.

McGrath  commented: "Full-back is a very intimidating position for any player, but for a young player to go in and play as well as he did, and he played very well last week as well, that's very, very encouraging.

"It's a question of working at his game and us trying to make him an even better full-back, but in terms of this match he played exceptionally well."

McGrath commented that if Fermanagh were still in contention by the start of the third quarter, they would have it in the legs to make a late push. Such confidence is borne from the work they have done on the training pitch according to Jones, who said: "We have been training hard. Leon (Carters, strength and conditioning coach) has been putting us through our paces, Brian Treacy (trainer) this year has obviously come in as well. We knew that we had to put in the hard yards.

"We said that ourselves, we knew we could keep ourselves in the game and we knew that if it was there for us in the last five or 10 minutes we would be able to go at them.

"It's all about getting the numbers back and then trying to break at pace. We are doing a lot of work on the training pitch, getting the fitness levels up so that boys can break in threes and fours and fives, all go together."

McGrath concluded: "I have said it over this last number of months, but last year was helter-skelter. Coming in late, getting to know players, getting to know the Fermanagh mindset and all that was tricky.

"We are in a much more stable environment now. We have a lot more work done, a better handle on the players, done a lot of talking over the summer with the players and if nothing else, we are going forward as a very focused group."

Belfast Telegraph

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