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Fermanagh ready to bounce back after Ulster final defeat

By Michael McGeary

There was no fairytale ending to Fermanagh's Ulster championship season, but their contribution to a vibrant summer of football should never be forgotten.

Before a ball was kicked in anger, Allianz League champions Derry, and Monaghan, were being freely touted as potential Ulster champions without as much as a glance in Fermanagh's direction.

Who could have imagined that the Erne men would dump both out of the championship in a matter of weeks en route to claiming a first Ulster final appearance in 26 years. The plan for them now is to bounce back when they face Kieran McGeeney's Kildare in Sunday afternoon's qualifier in Croke Park.

It won't be easy in what will be their third game in as many Sundays, but McGeeney's men are no world beaters and if Malachy O'Rourke's players go out with the right mindset who knows what might happen.

After claiming their seventh Ulster title in 10 years Armagh are entitled to a break before heading into quarter-final action. At the end of Sunday's victory over Fermanagh Armagh fans celebrated with such enthusiasm you might have believed it was their first such success.

It's easy to understand such a reaction. For when Big Joe Kernan stepped down 12 months ago it seemed Armagh fans might have to be patient. But Peter McDonnell came in and in his own understated way steadied the ship.

Gaelic Life McKenna Cup form wasn't encouraging, but then the first shoots of recovery were there for all to see in the Allianz League. Meath did hammer them in Navan one bleak Saturday night, but victory seven days later against Dublin offered hope of better days to come.

Four games later they are again champions of Ulster for the 14th time in all with Stevie McDonnell now the top goal scorer in the Ulster championship's history and 34 year old captain Paul McGrane is playing like a man half his age.

And then there's a certain Francie Bellew, the man Armagh fans hold closest to their hearts. The ovation he received late in the game when he was replaced was astonishing .

As Bellew passed, Joe Kernan rose to his feet and clapped furiously as Francie signed off on another job well done in Clones.

There were no fist pumps from Bellew, n fanfare or hugs, just a quick handshake with manager Peter McDonnell as that shy grin crossed his face and he disappeared to the sanctuary of the bench.

But when Armagh players took turns to lift the cup the cry was for Francie to take his turn, but typically he chose to remain in the shadows.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Armagh faithful hold him in such esteem for in so many respects he represents the heart and soul of Armagh 2008.

Belfast Telegraph

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