The criteria whereby something approaching an optimum performance from Fermanagh can be extracted has been laid down, it seems.
Burden them with guilt, compound this with a ration of injuries and ensure that tradition is an even bigger enemy than their actual opponents.
It was against this singularly intimidating backdrop that Malachy O’Rourke’s hitherto beleaguered side suddenly acquired a level of credibility that has been foreign to their psyche for some time when they buried Cavan’s Ulster Championship title ambitions for another year in this compelling but technically limited showdown at Kingspan Breffni Park.
If a string of morale-sapping defeats constituted a winter of discontent and culminated in relegation to Division Four of the NFL, then this timely tonic should be viewed in context — a welcome shaft of light infiltrating the Lakeland county gloom.
Monaghan now wait in the semi-final on Sunday week.
”Beating Cavan will be of no real value to us if we don’t follow it up. These next two weeks are of crucial importance to us — how we work and prepare will be vital,” says O’Rourke.
“Last year we beat Down in Enniskillen and then lost to Cavan in the Championship. We don’t want to be one-hit wonders all over again if we can help it. The most pleasing aspect for now is that we are in the semi-final because of a good overall team performance. We did not have necessarily to rely on any particular individuals to get us through.”
While few will take major issue with this assessment, nonetheless Ryan McCluskey’s majestic performance in defence, the herculean work of James Sherry and Martin McGrath at midfield, Ryan Carson’s physical power at centre-half-forward and Peter Ward’s dream debut that was highlighted by three points from play were central to Fermanagh’s success.
But in rediscovering themselves, Fermanagh have heaped massive pressure on Cavan boss Tommy Carr.
“I suppose we can have no complaints really,” said Carr. “Fermanagh’s power and intensity were too much in the end although we missed chances. The goal eventually killed us off, you would have to say. We must now focus on the qualifiers and that’s not something we had hoped to be doing.”
The sides were level on six occasions, Cavan’s dangerous sniping even from long distance was a constant menace and when they opened up a three-point gap (0-8 to 0-5) in the 33rd minute the Breffni Blues were all but invited to slip into the driving seat.
That they spurned this opportunity can be attributed to their, failure to vary their game plan and lack of experience in key areas. In contrast, with Ward (3) and Carson (2) having shared the first five Fermanagh points before the ineffective Rory Gallagher (free) and Chris O’Brien had tagged on two more to leave them just a point adrift at the break (0-8 to 0-7), the template was es
tablished for a second-half Erne effort rich in endeavour.
Yet Cavan’s spirit remained vibrant. Three times they clawed back Fermanagh leads, despite Seanie Johnston and Cian Mackey being largely contained by Fermanagh’s slick defensive mechanism overseen so efficiently by McCluskey.
While raw courage and unrelenting effort sustained Cavan’s momentum, the generous quantity of primary possession clawed from the skies by Sherry and McGrath in the central area serviced a Fermanagh attack in which five of the six starting players scored, their greater penetration ultimately ensuring that the pendulum swung in their team’s favour.
And indeed time ran out for Cavan in the 64th minute when the imposing Carson fielded a high ball, turned away and rifled a diagonal shot into the left-hand corner of the Cavan net past Fintan Reilly.
Coming on the heels of two superb points from substitute Seamus Quigley and even more superb defending from McCluskey and workaholic Barry Mulrone it was effectively the score that has transformed Fermanagh’s year — temporarily at least.
FERMANAGH: Ronan Gallagher; N Bogue, S Lyons, B Mulrone; D Ward, R McCluskey, T McElroy; J Sherry, M McGrath; D Keenan (0-1), R Carson (1-3), M Little; P Ward (0-3), Rory Gallagher (0-2, both frees), C O'Brien (0-2). Subs: Quigley (0-2) for Rory Gallagher (47), D Kelly for D Ward (63), C Flaherty for Little (64), J Woods for McElroy (67). Yellow cards: Little (55 mins), Bogue (57).
CAVAN: F Reilly; D Sheridan, T Corr, M Cahill; P Brady (0-1), E McGuigan, A Clarke; C Galligan, D Givney (0-2); R Flanagan, G Smith (0-4, 0-3 frees) M McKeever,; C Mackey (0-1), S Johnston (0-4, 0-2 frees), M Brennan (0-1). Subs: M Hannon for Clarke (40 mins), M Reilly for Brennan (55), L Mulvey for McKeever (60). Yellow cards; Givney (20 mins), Johnston (55).
Referee: Pat Fox (Westmeath)