Ryan McCluskey shuns soccer to help Fermanagh cause
Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath has been handed a massive boost with the return of former captain Ryan McCluskey to his squad.
McCluskey attended Wednesday night's Power NI Dr McKenna Cup defeat to St Mary's and is expected to return to training after Sunday's game against Derry.
His return will shore up a defence that was porous against St Mary's, a fact acknowledged by McGrath in the aftermath of a 3-8 to 1-10 defeat.
"There's no doubt it was them going through the middle that got them the goals. That's a serious problem we have," commented McGrath.
"It's happened in friendly matches to date and it's something we have to address. We simply cannot allow teams to drive down the middle of the park, giving and going, and the ball going to the back of the net."
McGrath is currently without Tommy McElroy, who played in a recent challenge match, and captain Eoin Donnelly who is recovering from surgery on his hand.
Former captain and two-time All-Star Barry Owens is expected to be back in the second week of February after becoming father to twins prior to Christmas.
With those players back Fermanagh will have a more solid spine, along with being able to move Marty O'Brien – makeshift full-back on Wednesday night – to a more advanced position.
Seamus Quigley turned in another flamboyant display in hitting 1-7, but McGrath was deeply concerned that over 70 plus minutes only one other starting forward scored, Niall McElroy.
"If we are going to rely on one player to get 90 per cent of the scores in every game, then it is not going to work," McGrath reflected.
"We definitely need more forwards that are going to pose a scoring threat."
Speaking about his return, McCluskey explained that he turned down the advances of a number of Irish League teams who wished to tempt the former Portadown, Cliftonville and Dungannon Swifts midfielder to switch codes.
"There were offers to go back and play a bit of soccer and it was something I thought long and hard about," he said.
"However, I felt having been captain for the past couple of years I was partially responsible for the way things went.
"We are one of the smaller counties and we don't have the pick of others, but you have to take heart from the likes of Monaghan last year who are of a similar population size to Fermanagh yet went on to win Ulster.
"You have to think to yourself that if Monaghan can win an Ulster title, why can't we?"
* Derry have named their team to face Fermanagh at Owenbeg on Sunday, while Antrim have named their side as well.
Derry: Eoin McNicholl; Michael McShane, Oisin Duffy, Dermot McBride; Carlus McWilliams, Aidan McAlynn, Kevin Johnston; Patsy Bradley, Niall Holly; Benny Heron, James Kielt, James Kearney; Declan Mullan, Emmett McGuckin, Aaron Kerrigan.
Antrim: Oisin Kerr; Kevin O'Boyle, Dermott McCann, Justin Crozier; Tony Scullion, Martin Johnson, Mark McAleese; Mark Sweeney, Michael McCann; Conor Murray, Philip Maguire, Paddy Kelly; Paddy Cunningham, CJ McGourty, Brian Neeson.
Antrim hurling: Seanan McToal; Ciaran Johnston, Eoghan Campbell, Michael Bradley; Simon McCrory, Conor McKinley, Paul Shiels; Barry McFall, Jackson McGreevy; Stephen McAfee, Matthew Donnelly, Niall McKenna; Daniel McKernan, Neil McManus [Capt], Ciaran Clarke.