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Ryan can’t wait for Fermanagh return

When Peter Canavan was recently appointed manager of Fermanagh, Ryan McCluskey’s decision to call time on his career with Dungannon Swifts in the Irish Premiership was rendered a little more straightforward.

The 30-year-old defender had been out of the Erne loop because of his soccer commitments but Canavan’s arrival persuaded him that he might just have a part to play in restoring pride in the green jersey.

And having made the decision to resurrect his involvement in Gaelic football, McCluskey was even more convinced that he had taken the right step when Canavan lost no time in appointing him captain.

“There is no doubt that Peter’s appointment as manager had a big bearing on my coming back into the Fermanagh fold,” explains McCluskey.

“There is a renewed spirit already and the task for us all now will be to revive the team’s fortunes.”

On Sunday McCluskey will embark on his 12th season in the inter-county arena when he leads Fermanagh out against Antrim in the opening Power NI Dr McKenna Cup at Brewster Park in Enniskillen.

It’s a venue that is all too familiar to McCluskey as he plays his club football with Enniskillen Gaels.

But he does not see the surroundings as offering his side an undue advantage over Liam Bradley’s men.

“It’s going to be a tough game as Antrim have their sights on making an early impact,” insists McCluskey.

“We are missing some experienced players but the boys who will be in action are very keen to do themselves proud.”

If Martin McGrath, Tommy McElroy, James Sherry, Damian Kelly, Peter Sherry and Ciaran Flaherty are unavailable for various reasons, then McCluskey, last year’s captain Barry Owens, Niall Bogue and Ryan Keenan are among players who can provide a necessary injection of experience to stabilise the side.

McCluskey — who initially made his name as a tigerish corner-back before morphing into a commanding centre-half-back — has enjoyed good days and some frustrating experiences with Fermanagh.

He was consistently outstanding when the county reached the All-Ireland semi-finals in 2004 only to lose out to Mayo after a replay.

And then he showed elegant composure in masterminding the defensive strategy from centre-half-back in a robust drive for Ulster title glory in 2008 that was only thwarted by Armagh again after a replay.

McCluskey’s craft, vision and guile will certainly be required against what on paper at any rate is a lively Antrim attack.

Paddy Cunningham, Michael Magill and and Tomas McCann are the players most likely to prove thorns in the side of the home rearguard yet McCluskey’s cool authority coupled with the palpable desire within the side to give Canavan a winning start to his managerial career could prove the key to victory.

Belfast Telegraph

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