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Past woe won't be a burden on Fermanagh: Eoin Donnelly

 

By John Campbell

Not too many inter-county players hold the distinction of having been appointed skipper of their side by three successive managers.

But then Fermanagh's Eoin Donnelly is not quite your ordinary common or garden player.

The strapping midfield ace has been a constant in the side under Peter Canavan, Peter McGrath and now Rory Gallagher and tomorrow represents one of the biggest challenges of his career to date when he leads Fermanagh into battle against Monaghan in the Ulster Championship semi-final at Healy Park, Omagh (2pm).

Yet while Donnelly has sampled his share of the limelight, particularly so this year when he helped to engineer Fermanagh's successful drive into Division Two of the Allianz League, he hails from a club which he maintains that some folk within the county might still have difficulty locating!

"Yes, Coa is not exactly at the centre of the universe," smiled the engaging Donnelly. "But the club has always been proud of its players no matter at what level they have found themselves playing. I have to say the club has always been supportive of me and this makes you feel proud and adds to your desire to do well because you are representing them."

When he dons the familiar green jersey again tomorrow, Donnelly knows that he will be shouldering the hopes of a county that yearns for a first Ulster title but is all too well aware that in Monaghan they will encounter a side that has collected the honour in 2013 and 2015 and has already thwarted Tyrone's bid to make it a hat-trick of successive title triumphs for the first time.

But if history has failed to deliver provincial glory for the Erne County, then it will not be allowed to become a burden tomorrow.

Donnelly's spirited, upbeat approach and the inspirational rhetoric of manager Gallagher, both so crucial in that surprise but totally deserved eclipse of Armagh last month, will see to that.

"We will go into this game not thinking about past history. Rather we will be focused on what we can do and how we can beat Monaghan," stated Donnelly. "Because the season is so long now, you have little time to reflect on things of the past. I consider myself very lucky as I have played under good managers who have come in with their own attributes.

"This year, Rory has shown that he is a top-class manager and he expects us to win every game in which we participate. That is rubbing off on the players all the time.

"We are better prepared than ever now. When we are away on our training camps we get the chance to prepare properly for our games and we actually feel we are getting positive work done. We like to think that we get the best out of our training and this helps to build up our confidence.

"This means that when you go into a game, as we will do against Monaghan, you feel that you are ready for it and you honestly feel you can win it."

While Monaghan bring formidable credentials to the table, Donnelly will be at the helm of a side that includes dynamic workers in Barry Mulrone and Aidan Breen, an astute playmaker in Declan McCusker and a potentially devastating strike force in the Quigley brothers Sean and Seamus.

Based in Carryduff, Donnelly, like many of his Fermanagh colleagues, makes considerable sacrifices in terms of travel to training, get-togethers and matches but insists that occasions such as the quarter-final win over Armagh make it all worthwhile.

"We felt we were well prepared and I honestly believed that we would win even before the game," revealed Donnelly.

"And it was nice to get the monkey off our backs in terms of landing a Championship victory. You can't really say that we have beaten teams we weren't fancied to beat.

"We have traditionally been underdogs so to get the win was great.

"Actually, it was a case of, 'Right, we have beaten Armagh, we are into the next round, what's ahead of us?'

It's this renewed optimism, marked sense of purpose and rediscovered pride that combine to send Fermanagh into tomorrow's assignment bolstered by solid belief rather than clinging to forlorn hope which might have been the case in the past.

"The training that we undertook in advance of the Armagh match stood to us and we had the mental preparation instilled into us as well. This will be very much the case for this game against a Monaghan side that finished so impressively indeed in Division One of the Allianz League," pointed out Donnelly.

"Any team that can beat Dublin deserves to be treated with the highest respect and that's what we will be giving Monaghan, but not to the extent that we will be shirking in the slightest from the challenge we know is awaiting us in this game."

Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke played for and managed Fermanagh and knows football in his native county inside out.

Even in his professional life as a teacher in Enniskillen, O'Rourke is well accustomed to the anecdotes and hopes surrounding Fermanagh's ongoing bid to become a force in Ulster.

He is aware, too, of the fresh spirit that prevails within the county which has been triggered by new boss Gallagher, who is not known for mincing his words in terms of what he wants from his Ernesider players. It's this new steely-eyed approach that Donnelly and his colleagues will take into tomorrow's game as they seek to lend yet another dimension to an Ulster Championship that produced three tantalising results before 'normal business' resumed when Down beat Antrim in a tedious contest last Saturday night when most minds and eyes were on Liverpool's ultimately unsuccessful bid to be crowned champions of Europe.

"We know that Malachy will have Monaghan well fired up. They have a lot of experienced players in their side and they have won a couple of Ulster titles in recent years while they have also gained experience in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, so they will come to Omagh well armed but we will be ready for them," insisted skipper Donnelly.

TEAMS, Fermanagh: P Cadden; K Connor, C Cullen, M Jones; B Mulrone,J McMahon, L Cullen; E Donnelly, R Jones; P McCusker,D McCusker, A Breen; Sean Quigley, C Jones, Seamus Quigley.

Monaghan: R Beggan; K Duffy, D Wylie, R Wylie; D Mone, V Corey, F Kelly; K O'Connell, D Hughes; K Hughes, N Kearns, D Ward; R McAnespie, J McCarron, C McManus.

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