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Ernesiders moving in the right direction, insists Pete

By Declan Bogue

As good and commanding a performance as it was, Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath still wonders what his team might do if they could tune in for an entire game.

To win a Championship game by nine points and secure an All-Ireland quarter-final against the might of Dublin next Sunday in Croke Park is dreamland.

After his players agreed that they would play football in August, McGrath told them to be bullish about it and tell people they would. They have and they will.

So what's up next, Pete?

"To win our next game," replies the Rostrevor man.

And to think for a time it looked like Fermanagh were afraid and tentative. Do they struggle with the favourites tag?

"I don't know how much the players read the media and how much they listen to people," said McGrath, "I just don't know.

"But there was a lot of tentative performances there in the first half, when people were struggling to get up to the pace and intensity of the game and were making a lot of unforced errors in their play, particularly in their shooting."

He continued: "I think whenever we start to hit wides, that can destabilise a team.

"But, once we got those scores just prior to half time, the whole thing bedded in and there was a lot more structure and assurance with the way the team played."

They had excuses if they were interested in them. Referee Paudie Hughes was harsh in banishing Ryan McCluskey and Marty O'Brien early on with black cards.

McGrath revealed something of their half-time discussion: "If we went out in the second half and brought our best performance into the game, then we were going to win it. In fairness the two players who spoke loudest in the changing room were Marty O'Brien and Ryan McCluskey."

What he takes out of a game like this cannot be underestimated.

"The team is maturing, they are showing composure at critical times and they can weather a storm," said McGrath. "They don't become frantic, they don't stray from the game plan and they don't lose the good habits that we want to indoctrinate with them. That shows belief and when you are winning matches like we are this year, players go into that mode automatically."

He also relied on Tomás Corrigan taking over free-taking duties from Sean Quigley who rather curiously, had his second off-day in a row from the dead ball. Corrigan finished with 1-7, 0-5 from frees, but what luxury it is for a manager to have that?

"You go back to the '60s and Down with Paddy Doherty and Sean O'Neill - Paddy used always say that he let Sean take the easy ones," chuckles McGrath.

"When one man is struggling a bit, to have someone come in and take the kicks and be as assured as Tomás is critically important."

The control of the play in the second half was virtually Donegal-esque, as they held possession in midfield, forcing Westmeath to leave gaps to exploit. That quality was lauded by McGrath as he said: "We like to go at the opposition with pace. You can't always do that so when the attack slows or becomes lateral, then they have be composed and have to show patience.

"We are always shouting it at training, patience, patience, patience, look up, keep probing and then the cracks will appear. They did show a lot of maturity."

Dublin in August. 50,000 fans. Dreamland.

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