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McCusker: Belief in ourselves is just what we needed

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By Declan Bogue

Published 14/05/2016

Ready for battle: Declan McCusker is hoping his team can secure a win against Antrim
Ready for battle: Declan McCusker is hoping his team can secure a win against Antrim tomorrow

Funny how certain teams define others. If this present group of Fermanagh players had one touchstone moment they could recall, when it all clicked, it would be that game against Antrim in 2014.

Torn asunder in the backline, a meeting between players and management a few days later laid a few truths bare. The players pushed for a more organised defensive strategy. Management agreed. They rallied to produce a decent performance in the qualifiers in losing to Laois, but from that point on they have been a different proposition.

"The players and Pete all gave their points of view. A lot of what we said was taken on board," recalls Declan McCusker, flying wing-back with a taste for some outside-of-the-boot heroics. "What Antrim scored against us, you're never going to win a Championship game conceding that."

Asked if the players pushed the idea, he answers; "It was mutual. When you see your manager take on board what you're saying, it shows the value you have within the group. He's listening to what we say and we see on the pitch."

McGrath has constantly spoken of his frustration this Fermanagh group are too keen to do themselves down. He wasn't the first manager to identify that.

"(Peter) Canavan continually told us we're better than we think we are, and that a lot of it is in our heads," reveals McCusker. McGrath has no problem in saying that Fermanagh's goal should be an Ulster title. It makes McCusker slightly uneasy.

The St Joseph's, Ederney man has become a crucial component of the side in recent seasons, along with his brother Paul. When the two travelled to Australia during the league campaign for a family wedding, their absence was keenly felt.

And yet, talking themselves up has never been Fermanagh's way.

"There's very few managers that would go out and say that our aim's to win an Ulster title, apart from maybe the big teams.

"A team like Fermanagh, very few managers would come out and say our aim is to win an Ulster title. Maybe they think it sounds silly, but within the group they're probably all saying that.

"For him to put it out in the media, boys are maybe sitting thinking 'Jeez, what's he saying that for, you're better keeping that in the camp'. But at the same time, he's not afraid to say it and that gives you a bit of extra belief."

Perhaps a dash of Down belief is exactly what they need.

Last year, McGrath promised them they were good enough to play football into September, and so it proved. They bowed out eventually to All-Ireland champions Dublin, doing themselves no disgrace. "I think we competed well enough with them. We missed a lot of chances," notes the school teacher in Holy Family Primary School, Omagh.

After that game, there was a realisation that, especially with the dramatic win over Roscommon, this team had travelled a long journey, and re-connected with their support. They had some memorable times and when they approached their fans in Croke Park after the quarter-final, it was in recognition of their loyal support.

Of course, some typically smart comments followed from the usual quarters about those scenes, with pundits failing to recognise their significance.

"We were showing our appreciation to the fans for the way they followed us all year, and they were showing their appreciation to us for what we'd given them for the year. I wouldn't be listening to what some of those pundits say."

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