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Ernesiders' confidence will fuel their All-Ireland bid

By John Campbell

Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath believes that the winning habit which his team acquired during the recent Allianz League will now stand them in good stead as they bid to chart progress in the All-Ireland qualifiers.

And McGrath makes no bones about the fact that he is determined to see his side still involved in championship action come August.

McGrath, who admits that he was "in the dark" when he took over the Erne reins last year, has already brought the side up into Division Two this term and overseen an Ulster Championship win over Antrim before their progress was halted by Monaghan at the semi-final.

Now, as his players prepare for yet another meeting with the Saffrons in the qualifiers on Sunday at Brewster Park, Enniskillen, McGrath anticipates that the confidence garnered through the league and indeed through their championship victory over Antrim at the end of May will fuel their challenge.

"Winning breeds confidence and that can only do good for any team," insisted McGrath.

"We have got fresh belief in ourselves as a result of our league campaign and now the challenge is to kick on."

McGrath, still as single-minded and purposeful as he was when overseeing Down's All-Ireland title successes in 1991 and 1994, is hoping that Fermanagh can rekindle the spirit and commitment that saw the county reach the All-Ireland semi-final in 2004 and the Ulster final in 2008.

"Fermanagh have shown in the past what they are capable of and now it's up to this present team to prove their true worth on the championship stage. This is where you are really judged, after all," maintained the passionate McGrath.

But with the imposing figure of Ryan McCluskey likely to be absent from the heart of his defence following his red card against Monaghan, McGrath will be forced to tweak his side.

"Ryan's sending-off came at the behest of an umpire and it was exceptionally unjust, harsh and unfair. It looked like a very marginal thing and saw one of our most influential players sidelined," declared McGrath.

"Any chance we had of winning that game probably departed with him."

Yet for over two-thirds of that semi-final, Fermanagh retained the scent of victory in their nostrils. It was only when Conor McManus cut loose in the wake of McCluskey's dismissal and landed 1-1 within a devastating two-minute spell that the game slipped from the Ernesiders' grasp.

But McGrath was forced to concede that Monaghan's greater maturity and combative attitude also proved crucial.

"Over 70 minutes, their power and their strength and their experience, that ability particularly in the second-half to maximise their chances, was better than ours. They're a long way further down the road in their development than we are," conceded McGrath.

"But we were certainly not overrun by Monaghan and I would like to think that we will be still playing championship football in August."

His team can take a decisive step towards achieving that goal by overcoming Antrim on Sunday and they go into the match bolstered by a particularly healthy recent scoring record in championship football.

Last year, Fermanagh fell to Antrim in the Ulster series by 2-18 to 3-13 and then in the All-Ireland qualifier they were just shaded by Laois on a 1-19 to 2-15 scoreline.

Erne county board spokesman Pauric McGurn rightly points out that in nine matches out of 10, the totals that Fermanagh landed in those games would have been sufficient to gain victory.

"I think we showed over the course of the league and indeed in the championship to date that we possess finishing power," pointed out McGurn.

"Sean Quigley finished as the top scorer overall in the league and we will be hoping that he can set the tone for victory over Antrim again. You can take nothing for granted because the pressure is now being stepped up considerably."

Quigley, along with Eoin Donnelly, Ryan Jones, Niall Cassidy, Tomás Corrigan and Paul McCusker, will be in the vanguard of Fermanagh's bid to advance on Sunday.

"We have a good core of experienced players and I think the team overall represents a good balance of skill and flair. Hopefully, we will get a rub of the green as well," added McGurn.

Belfast Telegraph


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