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Kelly eyes start as McGrath shuffles Erne pack

By Declan Bogue

Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath has handed a first start of the Championship to veteran defender Damian Kelly for the visit of Antrim tomorrow.

The Tempo Maguires clubman, tempted back this year after sitting out the 2014 campaign, has had a low-key season so far.

He started the league match against Tipperary but was replaced, while he also got the last two minutes against Wexford and played a half of football in the dead-rubber season-closer against Clare.

However, he comes in at wing-forward as a direct replacement for Ciaran Flaherty, who has gone on holidays.

Elsewhere, James McMahon comes in for the suspended Ryan McCluskey, whose appeal against the red card awarded in the Ulster semi-final defeat to Monaghan was turned down in midweek. McMahon was a contender for Man of the Match against Antrim, but was ruled out of contention for involvement against Monaghan due to injury.

It's unlikely that Kelly will be playing in an advanced role and will instead take up a place in the half back line, giving McMahon license to become the sweeper in the absence of McCluskey.

Fermanagh are left in a peculiar scenario of having to play a team they have already beaten in the Ulster Championship, but it's not an unfamiliar concept to the county.

Back in 2001, the first year of the backdoor qualifier system, they were under the management of John Maughan and got the better of Donegal after a replay in the preliminary round of the Ulster Championship.

However, after they lost the quarter-final to Monaghan, they fell to a heavy defeat in the qualifiers against Donegal.

Under Peter Canavan in 2013 the team suffered a similar fate, being paired with Cavan in the backdoor after having suffered defeat to the Breffni men in the provincial Championship.

Things went even worse for them in Breffni Park the second day, with Sean Quigley dismissed after half time after Cavan engineered a row as the teams left the pitch for half time.

John Woods, the tightest-marking defender in the county who is currently taking a break from football, addressed that defeat in the Fermanagh Herald in a midweek column.

Woods cautioned: 'The hangover from a defeat will always cast a shadow. As a team we were extremely confident of getting a win that second day against Cavan, especially after that morale-boosting win over Westmeath, but maybe that mental hangover was still lingering from the defeat in the first game.

'This is why it's important for the boys on Sunday to be totally ruthless against Antrim and reinforce their dominance from their last meeting.'

This will be the 10th Championship meeting of these teams, with Fermanagh winning four out of the last five encounters.

Fermanag (v Antrim): T Treacy; M Jones, T Daly, N Cassidy; D McCusker, J McMahon, M O'Brien; E Donnelly (C), R O'Callaghan; B Mulrone, R Jones, D Kelly; P McCusker, S Quigley, T Corrigan

All-Ireland Qualifiers: Brewster Park, Sun, 3.00pm

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