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Fermanagh have had time to handle provincial pain, maintains McGrath

By Declan Bogue

No safety net, no moral victories and everything to gain for the four Ulster sides that head into Round Four of the All-Ireland qualifiers this weekend, bidding to take their place in the very first Super-8s group stage of the Championship.

Tyrone, Armagh and Monaghan - while Fermanagh staged an ultimately unsuccessful Ulster title bid - have been creeping through the backdoor and should those four manage to get through and join Donegal, the province will have the largest representation of any at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage, beating the record Ulster set of four in 2003, '04, '13 and '15.

The team we know least of are Fermanagh, who reached this point after being beaten in the provincial final.

Rory Gallagher has had two weeks to get the Ernesider train back on the tracks after their catastrophic crash in the Ulster final against Donegal.

Kildare, their opposition tonight in Round Four of the qualifiers, have been through an emotional rollercoaster after their management and county board decided that they were not going to play their Round Three game against Mayo in Croke Park, spawning the hashtag #NewbridgeOrNowhere.

It culminated on a dramatic Saturday night in the cosy Kildare venue when they ejected Mayo from the All-Ireland race.

After such a high, it is going to be difficult to replicate the adrenaline of last week, while Fermanagh have had a decent spell to get over their disappointment.

The day after their Ulster final defeat, the panel and management went on a cruiser journey around Lough Erne and were back for a gym session on the Wednesday before getting back onto the pitch on the Thursday.

Last Sunday they had a worthwhile workout on the Belcoo pitch and began preparations for this weekend's game, which represents a ticket to the first ever edition of the Super-8s.

Marty McGrath, who captained Fermanagh the last time they lost an Ulster final, before they went on to lose to Kildare at Croke Park, said: "The two-week break is going to help Fermanagh, no doubt about that.

"They had the opportunity to get out and have a bit of craic with each other, which is important in the modern era. That would have helped.

"They have had time to look back on the mistakes they made in the Ulster final, whereas Kildare are on a high after beating Mayo and getting all the attention last week.

"They've had a week to come down off that and re-focus on this game. In the last 20 minutes of the game, if Fermanagh are close to them, I would fancy them to come through."

Before that, Tyrone and Armagh are in action in the early part of a Portlaoise double-header. Since losing to Monaghan in Ulster, Mickey Harte's men have struggled past Meath, found the going a bit easier away to Carlow and after some discomfort last weekend in Brewster Park, muscled their way past Cavan.

They now face Cork, who collapsed terribly against Kerry in the Munster final.

Armagh are another that exited Ulster early and while a case could be made that they have been lucky with the draw, defeating Westmeath and Sligo, it should be pointed out that both games were away and they had to overcome a sizeable Clare lead in the closing minutes of their contest last week to earn the right to play beaten Connacht finalists Roscommon in the first leg of the Portlaoise programme.

In the final game tomorrow, Monaghan face Laois, who were walloped in the Leinster final.

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