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Fermanagh are aiming to end years of Ulster heartache

By John Campbell

Peter McGrath is no stranger to success, the two All-Ireland final triumphs he masterminded while in charge of Down (1991 and 1994) having long since ensured his slot in the pantheon of great managers.

Now, over two decades on from leading the Mourne County to their last significant coup, the Rostrevor native is confronting the biggest challenge of his stellar career in management.

Fermanagh have never won the Ulster senior football championship in their long history but the driven, purposeful and single-minded McGrath now believes that it is high time this protracted famine was ended.

When he took over the Erne outfit last year, he encountered teething problems which meant that the side were not firing on all cylinders.

But it's a rather different story today. Fermanagh are flexing their muscles in anticipation of the renewal of their rivalry with the Saffrons later this month buoyed by their promotion to Division Two and a hitherto unimagined ration of self-belief.

True, they may have lost their last two matches to Clare and Armagh but promotion had already been earned when they met the former side and a gallant effort in Croke Park fell just short against Kieran McGeeney's men.

McGrath has painstakingly moulded a side that is high on energy, imbued with the necessary cocktail of steel and skill and boasting one of the top finishers in the country in Sean Quigley.

Yet it's McGrath's propensity for testing himself as much as anything else that will send Fermanagh into the Ulster Championship determined to mock tradition.

"While promotion was a big target for us and we achieved that, beating Antrim is an even bigger target for us," insists McGrath. "At the start of the season if you had said to me pick one match that you really want to win it would have been this forthcoming game against Antrim. That has not changed.

"While it would have been lovely to win the Division Three final, the fact of the matter is that we competed well, we were manly and resilient and played good football but there were serious lessons to be absorbed.

"I wanted the players to see what those lessons were and to have the maturity to take them on board and I think they have.

"Even if we had beaten Armagh and won that trophy, I would have been telling the players to put it under the bed somewhere because this Antrim game is of much greater importance."

While McGrath is looking no further than the Saffrons, the possibility that the odds could shorten on his team's chances of making significant headway in the competition should they win has not escaped his mind.

Cavan or Monaghan will await McGrath's men in the semi-final as they bid to replicate the progress - and perhaps even surpass it - that the county made in 2004 when they lost to Mayo in the All-Ireland semi-finals after a replay and again in 2008 when they lost the Ulster final to Armagh after a replay.

It's another McGrath, former Fermanagh All-Star Marty, who was involved in both those flirtations with glory, who believes there is no one better-equipped than his namesake to take Fermanagh out of the wilderness.

"The team is very fit and they have the confidence that comes from winning promotion. No one does motivation better than Peter," maintains McGrath. "They will look to up their game. Peter has put in a lot of work and to be fair to the players, so have they."

Belfast Telegraph


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