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Ulster tie is win or bust for Mulrone

By John Campbell

Fermanagh may have gained promotion to Division Two in the Allianz League but straight-talking utility player Barry Mulrone warns in advance of Sunday's Ulster Championship set-to with Antrim that this should not be allowed to camouflage what has been a depressing recent record in the flagship competition.

Mulrone talks the talk in much the same way as he walks the walk in the county jersey -robust, defiant and inherently honest.

"You can do as well as you want in the league but in Ulster, if you're knocked out in the first round of the Championship, everything you've done beforehand is forgotten about," declares Devenish clubman Mulrone.

"Our manager, Peter McGrath, has said all year the one game he wants to win is this one against Antrim on Sunday and our feelings as players are exactly the same. It's not a revenge mission or anything like that because of last year."

The passionate Mulrone embodies the hunger and sense of ambition that have coursed through the Fermanagh squad this year to date.

"I've been in the side for several years and the only win I have shared in was 2010. I think the teams we have had on duty in the Ulster series have under-achieved massively," asserts Mulrone.

"We haven't been able to get the wins, yet I still believe the teams we were able to put in there were capable of winning some of those games but didn't."

Since McGrath took over, a fresh vibrancy has permeated the Fermanagh squad to the extent that some people in the county are already contemplating an Ulster semi-final meeting with Monaghan.

But that's jumping the gun in Mulrone's book.

"Look, winning is a habit and hopefully now that we've acquired this in the league we can bring it into the Ulster Championship," he says. "Winning this opening game in the series has been top of our list of priorities all year."

In the aftermath of his team's loss to Armagh in the Division Three final, McGrath revealed his side would take on board lessons that had been learned.

And Fermanagh, like most sides, have adapted their strategy to meet the demands of the modern game.

"I don't think you can go man-for-man anymore, with the fitness levels and potency that are contained in attacks now. You just can't be that naïve to think your six backs are going to be enough.

"You need your whole team working defensively and offensively," insists Mulrone.

It was in the corresponding match last year that Antrim left their hosts shell-shocked at Brewster Park, Enniskillen and that defeat has served to condition Fermanagh's approach to Sunday's assignment.

But while ambition is still palpable, the players' feet remain firmly on the ground - hardly surprising, really, given that Fermanagh are the only county never to have an Ulster title.

It's a situation which Mulrone would like to see remedied but, as ever, his thinking is underpinned by realism.

"Don't get me wrong, all of us would love to win an Ulster title for the county," he says.

"After all, we've never won one before, but our sole focus is on this game against Antrim.

"After that we will reassess and see where we are," Mulrone added.

Antrim: C Kerr; C Burke, S McVeigh, R Johnson; J Crozier, T Scullion, N Delargy; C Murray, M Sweeney; P McBride, O Gallagher, J Laverty; C J McGourty, M Pollock, R Murray

Ulster C'ship QF: Brewster Park, Sun 3.30pm

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