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National Football League: Fermanagh set to do talking on the field

By John Campbell

Fermanagh will go into their Allianz National Football League tie against Kilkenny at Jenkinstown tomorrow (5pm) following one of the most turbulent weeks in the county’s GAA history.

The defection of several established players from the senior squad has garnered unwanted publicity for the Ernesiders who have been swimming against the tide in Division Four recently.

When John O’Neill was appointed to succeed Malachy O’Rourke as manager towards the end of last year, it was hoped that he would take the team to a new level.

O’Rourke, after all, had guided Fermanagh into the 2008 Ulster final in which they were decidedly unfortunate to lose out to Armagh after a replay and the expectation was that O’Neill might achieve more.

Yet he scarcely had time to warm the manager’s seat properly before the walk-out of key players triggered a tidal wave of speculation and rumour.

And after a week of endless talk, debate and conjecture, Fermanagh hope to do their talking on the field of play.

The absence in particular of the Sherry brothers James and Peter along with Tommy McElroy, Niall Bogue, Kieran Flaherty and Fergal Murphy will be keenly felt.

Kilkenny may be the lowest ranked team in the country but it remains to be seen if the chaos which has reigned in Fermanagh this week has impacted on the morale of those who will wear the county colours tomorrow.

Fermanagh have lost five matches on the trot, a grim statistic for a county which found itself engulfed in euphoric football fever at regular intervals over the past seven years.

Manager O’Neill, who has come in for his share of criticism this week, is nonetheless steadfast in his desire to try and improve the county’s fortunes.

Skipper Barry Owens, back to his best form following a protracted lay-off because of injury, and his fellow defender Hugh Brady are virtually the only two experienced players that O’Neill can now call upon.

They will underpin the rearguard against a Kilkenny attack that is far from a potent unit while Paul Ward and the emerging Chris O’Brien will shoulder responsibility for putting scores on the board for O’Neill’s men.

Obviously the line-up has undergone major surgery not only because of this week’s defections but also because several other players who were familiar faces in the side — Shane Lyons, Mark Little, Daryl Keenan, Martin McGrath, Chris Breen and Ryan Keenan — are not currently in the squad.

Indeed, the affable O’Neill finds himself in a no-win situation. Should his side collect the brace of points on offer, it will be suggested that some club sides in Fermanagh could beat Kilkenny — and there is more than a grain of truth in that.

And should they lose? Don’t even think about it!

Belfast Telegraph

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