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Fermanagh out to rule Ulster Senior Football Championship at long last

By John Campbell

Fermanagh is the only county never to have won the Ulster Senior Football Championship title and this has inspired manager Peter McGrath to launch an intensive build-up to what he hopes will prove a concerted assault on the provincial crown.

Often regarded in the past as Ulster's Cinderella side, Fermanagh have lived in the Championship shadows for decades, invariably proving cannon fodder for the more fancied outfits.

All that has changed under McGrath's no-nonsense regime and this weekend the two-time All-Ireland winning former Down boss will whisk his squad off to Mayo in what will be another step in his elaborate pre-championship itinerary.

They will make the luxurious Breaffy House Hotel in Castlebar their headquarters and will fulfil a challenge match against a Mayo side that faltered in the early stages of the league before eventually securing their place in Division One.

In retaining their own status in Division Two, Fermanagh were left in no doubt as to the enormity of the task they will face in striving to get their hands on the Anglo-Celt Cup for the first time.

While that superb draw with Tyrone was undoubtedly the highlight of their campaign, defeats to Derry, Armagh and Cavan helped to drive home the message that making significant headway in the provincial series will be difficult.

Yet McGrath, who could now find himself with an embarrassment of riches for the preliminary round tie against Antrim next month, remains unflappable.

"In the league we were looking for players to show heart, courage, energy and endeavour as well as imagination and very good football and while we have had a lot of that, we will need to step up to another level for the Ulster Championship," he insisted.

"We had a tentative start to the league but the fact that we got the draws against Galway and Tyrone in the last two rounds which helped to keep us safe in Division Two proved a tremendous boost.

"We can take positives from those games going into the Championship but you can be sure that Antrim will have taken a lot of heart from gaining promotion to Division Three."

In the past, Fermanagh's rather limited playing resources have often been touted as the reason for their failure to impose themselves in the Championship.

That situation certainly no longer pertains. When they drew with Tyrone in their last league game, the Ernemen were able to do so without players of the calibre of Ryan McCluskey and Ruairi Corrigan in their starting line-up.

They were without key defender Niall Cassidy, too, who was suspended while Richard O'Callaghan has missed the last three games and there was no place for Aidan Breen, so impressive in the earlier stages of the league and especially in the narrow one-point loss to Armagh.

The fact that McGrath had more than adequate replacements for these players and was able to amend his side accordingly has already triggered optimism for the Championship.

The arrival of Ryan Lyons in the side has added further pep to an attack in which Tomas Corrigan and Sean Quigley are expected to prove the primary source of Championship scores, just as they did in the league.

Fermanagh's new-found resources, the ebullient spirit that permeates the squad and a marked desire to rewrite the history books combine to ensure that McGrath's famed motivational skills may not after all be required in abundance to fire up his side.

County board spokesman Pauric McGurn said: "In the past, we may have been viewed as the poor relations in the Ulster series but we like to think that we have put those days behind us.

"We have a very good overall squad, there is a new-found confidence there and you can take it for granted that Peter McGrath will have the boys jumping out of their skins for the Ulster Championship.

"It would be true to say that the players just can't wait to get out onto that Brewster Park pitch against Antrim.

"We hope that home advantage will work in our favour and the winners are due to meet Donegal but we are certainly looking no further than the preliminary round.

"Considering our recent history, we certainly would not have the slightest grounds for losing the run of ourselves, that's for sure."

Belfast Telegraph


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