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Fermanagh's Peter McGrath to call on a blend of youth and experience

By John Campbell

Fermanagh manager Peter McGrath is prepared to bridge a generation gap as he finalises preparations for Saturday's All-Ireland qualifier against Mayo at McHale Park, Castlebar.

Ryan McCluskey and Damian Kelly are two players who still retain vivid memories of their involvement with the Fermanagh squad that reached the 2004 semi-finals only to be beaten by Mayo after a replay (0-13 to 1-8) and this weekend they will be joined by someone who has played just half a game of Championship football for the county.

Indeed, two years ago, Cian McManus was a central pillar in the St Patrick's College, Cavan side that won the Ulster Colleges MacRory Cup for the first time in 43 years and has since morphed into a competitor for whom Erne boss McGrath has a high regard.

Last year, McManus played in the Ulster Minor Championship, but when McGrath summoned him into action at half-time in the 0-19 to 1-11 qualifier victory over Wexford last Saturday, he surely signalled the start of what could prove to be a hugely successful career at senior level for the sturdy 19-year-old Teemore Shamrocks clubman.

McCluskey, meanwhile, played at left-full-back in both semi-final games against Mayo 12 years ago and although currently injured, he remains very much in McGrath's thinking.

And Kelly, who took a break from the game in 2014 but was a substitute 10 years previously, has recaptured the form which has made him a key component of successive Fermanagh sides.

New Mayo manager Stephen Rochford has to date presided over a difficult six months, including surrendering to Galway in the Connacht Championship semi-finals - a big surprise given they were expected to make it six titles on the trot this year.

Yet a glance at Mayo's recent record in the All-Ireland series will underline the enormity of the Ernemen's task. In each of the last five years, Mayo have reached the semi-finals. In 2011 they lost to Kerry, the following year they beat Dublin and in 2013 they overcame Tyrone.

In 2014 they again lost to Kerry before suffering defeat to Dublin after a replay last year.

Even if the Sam Maguire Cup continues to prove elusive, Mayo's consistency in reaching the closing stages ensures that McGrath is preparing for battle with his eyes wide open.

"Our performance against Wexford would not be good enough to get us past Mayo," maintained the two-time All-Ireland winning former Down boss.

"We need to step up. Mayo will be keen to get back on the rails and it will take a big effort."

McGrath has concerns, too, that there is not a greater spread of scorers within his side.

In three Championship matches to date this summer, Fermanagh have recorded 1-42, but two players - Tomas Corrigan (0-25) and Sean Quigley (1-6) - have landed 1-31 of that total.

"It would be nice if we could get more scorers. We have been creating chances in our matches, notably in the Ulster Championship game against Donegal, but not making the most of them because of poor shot selection on occasions," stated McGrath.

"It's good that we have players who are able to convert chances but hopefully the scoring load can be spread a little more."

Rochford, whose team overcame London by 2-16 to 0-9 in their opening Connacht Championship match but shot 15 wides in the process, is wary of the challenge the Ernemen will pose.

"We know Fermanagh are tough opposition and we are aware of the quality in their side," said Rochford. "We have been keeping our heads down and working hard in training."

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