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Gallagher is urging Ernemen to embrace the Ulster stage

By John Campbell

When Rory Gallagher took over as Fermanagh senior football team manager last Autumn, morale within the county was at a low ebb.

Peter McGrath had vacated the post in July amid acrimony and the public perception was then that the Ernesiders' stock would sink even lower.

But Gallagher has not just steadied the ship in the interim, he has steered it into calmer waters and now, with a place in Division Two confirmed for 2019, he is strongly focused on striving to gain fresh credibility for Fermanagh in a Championship context.

They remain the only county never to have lifted the Ulster title but it's the present rather than the past that consumes the diligent, single-minded Gallagher as he steps up his preparations for the forthcoming provincial flagship competition.

And with the hunger for starting places having intensified considerably within his squad, there is renewed fervour that the Ernemen can make their presence felt just as they did in 2008 when a place in the final was deservedly achieved, only for opponents Armagh to emerge triumphant after a replay.

While at least four rounds of club fixtures are expected to be completed in the county this month, the real focal point - and the major topic of discussion - is the visit of Armagh to Brewster Park, Enniskillen on Saturday, May 19.

Like all inter-county managers, Gallagher is keeping his fingers crossed that the members of his panel will come through their club itineraries unscathed.

With Ruairi Corrigan, Seamus Quigley, Conall Jones, Eoin Donnelly, Sean Quigley and James McMahon currently in fine form, Gallagher has reason to be optimistic in relation to the Orchard County's impending visit despite the defeat which his side suffered at their hands in the recent Division Three final.

McMahon, who played for Queen's in the Dr McKenna Cup and has shown impressive form for Fermanagh in the latter stages of the league, perhaps best epitomises the spirit within the squad.

He said: "I would say that for us and Armagh, promotion was the main goal but now we have to play each other again in the Championship. The whole focus is on this game and we have to give it everything."

With the imposing Tom Clarke having earned a starting place against Armagh in the league final and both Ciaran Corrigan and Ruairi Corrigan having impressed as substitutes, manager Gallagher is now confronted by interesting selection options.

Sean Quigley started that game but received a black card in the early moments which terminated his involvement but he has been in fine scoring form for Roslea in the All-County league since then which could see him regain his place for the Ulster Championship, although Gallagher does have certain options at his disposal.

Along with his lieutenant, former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Ryan McMenamin, Gallagher is keen to see Fermanagh get fresh status in the Championship.

Gallagher, who was Jim McGuinness' right-hand man when Donegal won the All-Ireland title in 2012, subsequently managed the side from 2015 until last year.

And while he has enjoyed success as a player and manager, the Belleek native remains thoroughly grounded - particularly when it comes to assessing Fermanagh's progress.

"We have to be real as well about where we are at, we have to improve in a lot of areas," maintained Gallagher. "Overall, I would be pleased with the league but the next few weeks will define where we are going to go.

"Armagh know our style of play from the two meetings we have had with them to date this year and they will know ours. They will want to keep it tight and not let us get in for scores, so we have to be prepared for that."

• ANTRIM hurling skipper Conor McKinley is urging his side to make amends for their disappointing campaign in Division One of the Allianz League by creating a big impact in the forthcoming Joe McDonagh Cup.

The Saffrons find themselves in the second tier of the All-Ireland series and McKinley believes that their opening match against Meath on May 5 can prove a pivotal contest for his side.

"We have to put the league behind us and get down to business in the Joe McDonagh Cup. This provides us with a pathway to redemption and it's important that we make the most of our chance," insisted McKinley.

With teams such as Carlow, Kerry and Laois also in the competition, McKinley admits that Antrim will not face an easy itinerary over the course of the summer.

"These are all sides which are just outside the top bracket and they will be very keen to make an impact just like ourselves. We would like to show what we are really capable of in the Championship," added McKinley.

His father Dominic is a member of the four-strong management team and McKinley snr is particularly anxious that Antrim should make a statement on behalf of Ulster hurling.

He said: "Obviously the higher level you are playing at in the Championship the more media exposure you are going to receive and it's important that Antrim are shown in a good light.

"The league is done and dusted and now we must focus on the future. There is a good mix of youth and experience within our side."

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