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Ernesiders can handle derby heat

Despite naming a weakened team this weekend to face Cavan, Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath has pledged that his players will be up to the sharpness required in this oftentimes fractious derby match.

During the Dr McKenna Cup campaign, Seamus and Sean Quigley carried the scoring load between them (see our county-by-county guide on this guide). So much so, that only 0-4 was scored outside of the Roslea brothers, with Ryan and Conal Jones, Niall McElroy and Ruairi Corrigan only managing a point each.

Fermanagh will have to manage without both men tonight. Sean is suspended from his sending-off in the round two qualifier game against Cavan last summer, and Seamus is out with a hamstring strain.

However, a number of players have managed to get back in time for the league opener.

Ryan McCluskey returned to the panel and took part in recent challenge matches against Ballinderry and Louth, Brian Cox takes up the unusual position of full-forward after recovering from a groin injury, and Tomás Corrigan starts, having shaken off hamstring trouble.

After having met last season three times, with a rash of red cards scattered throughout those meetings, McGrath acknowledged the bitter rivalry, saying, "When you get local rivals who have met on a regular basis over a number of times, it can provide that sharp edge.

"At the end of the day, most county matches in all honesty, you go to any league match up and down the country and you will see a sharp edge to what is going on.

"Particularly because it is the first match, people know the importance of getting in a decent performance. I think we will be ready to the sharpness of the atmosphere that will be there on Saturday night."

In a recent newspaper interview, defender John Woods pleaded with the Fermanagh support for patience, given the massive upheaval in playing staff. With figures such as Marty McGrath, Shane Lyons, Niall Bogue and Ronan Gallagher having departed, a lot of leadership has gone.

The players remaining and those that have come into the panel deserve a measure of support. So too does McGrath, as he has had to learn on the job since being named as the new Erne supremo.

"All players, and young players coming in and players who might not have played much football," the All-Ireland winning-manager commented, "they all need to find their feet and need breathing space.

"But this is inter-county senior football and the breathing space or the kind of opportunity for settling in and getting to grips with it, that's a limited timespace you get. Whether you like it or not you are in a results business."

Without their twin strike force, Fermanagh are priced as wide as 5/1 to win this game and already have been mentioned as a side that could drop down to the basement division.

McGrath says it is vital that does not happen: "I think for the welfare of the team and the welfare of their football it's important to stay in Division Three, that we don't drop down.

"In order to further football and push up standards and make it more productive than it is, you do need to be winning matches because at the end of the day you need a huge drive on confidence."

He added, "Confidence is a brittle thing especially when you are making your way at this level and the best way to inject confidence is by winning enough matches to give players the reassurance that yeah, they have got ability and they can survive at this level."

Eoin Donnelly leads Fermanagh out tonight, the first Coa O'Dwyer's player to captain the county.

Fermanagh: C Snow; J Woods, C Cullen, C Quigley; D McCusker, R McCluskey, T Daly; E Donnelly (C), R O'Callaghan; L Cullen, R Jones, C Jones; P McCusker, B Cox, T Corrigan.

* HIS team may be the current Ulster champions but Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke makes it clear that this will "guarantee us nothing" as an intimidating itinerary in Division Two beckons.

O'Rourke's side commence their programme with a trip to Pairc Esler, Newry tonight where they will meet a Down outfit in pursuit of credibility following a rather disappointing Power NI Dr McKenna Cup itinerary that yielded just one win in three outings.

"Obviously every side wants to be playing in Division One and this will be our objective.

"We gained promotion last year and it would be nice to get back-to-back promotions. That will not be easily achieved, but it must be our big goal," insists O'Rourke.

Belfast Telegraph