Fermanagh too strong for weakened Donegal
Fermanagh 2-15 Donegal 2-07: Despite shipping two careless late goals, Fermanagh still managed to breeze past a shadow Donegal side in the McKenna Cup in Enniskillen with some comfort.
A Donegal team was clapped onto the field by their hosts, but it bore scant resemblance to the team that blitzed through Mayo in the opening stages of the All-Ireland final less than four months ago.
As that Donegal squad returned from their team holiday in Dubai, manager Jim McGuinness handed debuts to five players.
Both teams committed plenty of bodies to the rearguard action throughout. At times, Fermanagh's Paul Ward was reprising Colm McFadden's role in that infamous 2011 All-Ireland semi-final as the lone striker.
Kane Connor and Daryl Keenan drifted back often, Conor spending most of time in midfield as a runner. Gary McFadden led the effort for Donegal. As well as fading in a long range effort on 13 minutes, he also swung over a nice free ten minutes later. Other than that, they were a blunt instrument.
Against an experienced Fermanagh midfield they could gain no traction.
At the back, Shane McGowan showed up well, his point on seven minutes a highlight of his own personal performance. But McGowan has performed at this level before. It may be early in the year to make grand pronouncements, but Donegal may not be blessed with tremendous strength in depth.
That may sound harsh, and after all this quota of rookies would never be plunged into a game of consequence. Perhaps a few may come into the squad over the course of the year, but the mutterings around Donegal suggest that what they have, they hold.
While the visitors are growing into life as champions, Fermanagh have worked manically over the winter months. They fielded an experienced side, Anthony McGuinness the sole new face.
Brian Cox was an obstinate figure at centre-back, and in attack while Shane McCabe's thoughtful precise passing married with Paul Ward's pace landed Ward a brace of points in the first half, and also created the space for defenders John Woods and Martin O'Brien to notch.
In the second half, it got worse for Donegal. It took them 19 minutes to get their first score, a point from McFadden. Fermanagh piled on the scores. Ward again was a bright spark, and Sean Quigley added two points from play, displaying he has the same skills as his absent brother, Seamus.
Yes, 'tis only January, but Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan can mine plenty of positives from this. His team were sharp, no surprise given that they are targeting an early bounce in the National League.
McGuinness deputised ably for the absent Barry Owens. After replacing Damian Kelly in the 18th minute, Marty O'Brien had a storming game.
Should they beat the students of St Mary's this weekend, they could go through to semi-finals. In a few short weeks, a seriously tough trip away to Wicklow awaits as the league opener.
Donegal's priorities are different. But they have earned that right.
Fermanagh: C Snow; R McCluskey [Capt], A McGuinness, J Woods (0-1); D McCusker, B Cox, D Kelly; J Sherry (0-1), Shane Lyons (0-1); T McElroy, S McCabe, E Donnelly; P Ward (0-5, 1f), D Keenan (1-1, 1f), K Connor (0-1). Subs: M O'Brien (0-1) for Kelly [18m], T Corrigan (1-0) and S Quigley (0-3, 1f) for Connor and Lyons [half-time], M McGrath (0-1) for Corrigan [49m], N Bogue for Cox [63m]
Donegal: M Boyle; K McFadden, C Cannon, T McKinley; L Keaney, S McGowan (0-1), M Boyle [Capt]; R Wherity, P Mailey; D McLaughlin, G McFadden (0-4, 1f), S Griffin (0-1f); S McGarvey, A Hanlon (1-0), W Gillespie. Subs: C Ward and D Molloy (1-1, 1f) for Mailey and Gillespie [half-time], P Carr for McKinley [59m], L Kelly for Wherity [66m]
Referee: Martin Sludden (Tyrone)