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Ryan mighty with Ulster title aim

By Declan Bogue

Published 27/02/2016

Experienced: Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey is still going strong at 34 years of age
Experienced: Fermanagh's Ryan McCluskey is still going strong at 34 years of age

Back in 2004, Fermanagh's All-Ireland quarter-final win over Armagh sent shockwaves through the world of Gaelic football.

A full 12 years ago, it says something for the durability of Ryan McCluskey that he is the last remaining player from that game. This week McCluskey returned from an extended break to challenge for a place on Pete McGrath's side when they face Armagh at the Athletic Grounds (tonight, 7pm throw-in).

While Armagh have undoubtedly held the whip-hand since with three wins and two draws in Championship football, it was a snatched league draw at the same venue between the two sides last year that aided Fermanagh to accompany Armagh up to Division Two.

Both sides are now priced as favourites for the drop, but 34-year-old Enniskillen Gaels man McCluskey believes his side should be aiming for the other end of the table.

"It is obviously a crucial game for both sides because it would be nice to get a win and that again changes your fortunes and what you are looking to do in the league," he said.

"A lot of people were talking about just consolidating your position in Division Two, trying to remain there. Yes, that would be great, but there is no reason why this side cannot be looking further than that. A win would be something that could definitely drive the side further on and promotion could be something that is within our grasp."

Since Fermanagh's impressive season last year, ending in a credible performance against eventual All-Ireland champions Dublin in the quarter-final, there has been bolshie talk of targeting an Ulster Championship, something not really heard of recent times in the county but nonetheless wholeheartedly welcomed by the centre-back.

"It's absolutely right. It has to be something that we try and build upon last season," he maintained.

"In my own situation, certainly getting sent off in the Monaghan game didn't help how the game panned out. I felt we were well in the game at that stage.

"With myself staying on and maybe pushing on at the end, we could have caused an upset and be sitting in an Ulster final. With Monaghan going on to win it, there was no reason why we couldn't have gone on after that game.

"That gave us more confidence to go on a bit of a run in the back door.

"We feel that with last year, with the squad we have, there is no reason why we shouldn't be talking about and looking at an Ulster title. You never know, we could be back in Croke Park and looking forward to a league final, something definitely within our grasp as well."

Considering he is the second-longest serving inter-county player in the game behind Monaghan's Dick Clerkin, the reasons for McCluskey's extended break were understandable, but retirement wasn't an option after the run Fermanagh had in 2015.

He explains: "Coming back was an easy enough choice, but it was a mentally and physically draining session. It was nice to get the rest and nice to get to sit down with Pete (McGrath) and chat with him. For him to understand the situation as well.

"It was great to rejoin the boys. I had been looking forward to it, that was a big thing as well. If I wasn't looking forward to it I wouldn't have gone back.

Derry (NFL v Galway): T Mallon; R Ferris, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; M Craig, G McKinless, D Heavron; E Bradley, B Rogers; B Heron, J Kielt, C McFaul; R Bell, M Lynch, D McKinless.

Down (NFL v Kerry): M Cunningham; L Howard, G McGovern, D O'Hagan; C McGovern, A Carr, D O'Hanlon; P Turley, M McKay; J Murphy, M Poland, K McKernan; C Maginn, C Harrison, B O'Hagan.

Monaghan (NFL v Dublin): R Beggan; C Walshe, D Wylie, R Wylie; K Duffy, F Kelly, K O'Connell; N McAdam, D Hughes; S Carey, D Malone, T Kerr; O Duffy, K Hughes, C McManus.

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