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New boss Gallagher lays down gauntlet to Erne squad

 

By Declan Bogue

Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher has described how an approach from the players was enough to convince him to take over the Erne County hotseat from Pete McGrath.

Fermanagh ended the season on a low note, being beaten by Monaghan and Armagh in the Championship by double figures.

And worse was to come when, in a show of player power, manager Pete McGrath learned his position was untenable as a significant number of players would not turn out for him in 2018, having already been re-appointed.

While this was all going down, Gallagher had brought to an end his seven year involvement with Donegal county teams, the highlight of which was the All-Ireland title of 2012 as he assisted then-manager Jim McGuinness.

"I made my decision on Donegal and I was looking forward to a bit of downtime and I had no real plan," Gallagher says.

"A couple of things came in and I was going on holiday. Fermanagh had touched base and I had a think about it while I was away on holidays. Then I just met up with the committee and that was it really."

The move seemed unlikely as he ended his attachment to Donegal but, as he explains, "I decided, being from Fermanagh, it would be something I would do once in my life so maybe now is the time to do it."

Having suffered relegation to Division Three and two heavy Championship defeats in 2017, the job may seem less than tempting, but Gallagher, who played seven seasons for the Erne County having made his debut as a 16-year-old in the National League in 1996, believes the talent is there, even allowing for a freakish rate of player turnover in such a small county.

The Belleek native said: "I would have to say, having studied Fermanagh prior to 2016 with Donegal it was likely we would meet them and we did beat them. But I thought Fermanagh were operating at a high enough level and then watching their game against Mayo.

"Things didn't go as they would have liked in 2017 but, either way, they feel there is more in them and when players are saying that, I see that as a challenge now for myself and the management team.

"People say, 'do you set targets?' And no, you set targets to improve. You obviously want to improve each player and want to improve the group collectively and see where that will take you."

Already Gallagher has made an impression, naming an eye-catching backroom team including former Tyrone All-Ireland winner Ryan McMenamin along with his brother Ronan and former team mate Shane McCabe. The quartet is probably the freshest inter-county management team in Ireland with none of them in the forties yet.

For now, Gallagher is not indulging talk of targets and what would represent progress, but points out: "In the last seven years, Fermanagh have only won Ulster Championship matches against Antrim and that's something we need to achieve - to become more competitive.

"From now to the start of the National League, I want to make sure we prepare better than anybody else in the country."

He continues: "We as a group need to knuckle down, work very hard, train smart and arrive at the start of the league.

"And then we need to arrive at the start of the league. Then we will push on to arrive at the start of the Championship.

"For any player in the panel, commit to it, improve, and after that I will have a better idea of where we are at."

The surprise over Gallagher's appointment is related to how his relationship has not always been harmonious with the Fermanagh county board.

However, the board have been delighted with their appointment and deserve credit for their recent track record in recruiting Pete McGrath and before that Peter Canavan.

However, a county such as Fermanagh can struggle with logistics, something Gallagher did not duck when asked about his previous opposition to a lack of ambition or planning for success.

It's something that he struggled against as a player in his time.

"That has been there for many years," he downplays.

"Now I am in a position of control, I feel, on how the team trains, how they prepare. I feel that's the huge challenge for me because we don't have the massive resources so it is a huge challenge. And every player that is good enough to play in the panel is absolutely crucial.

"It's up to me to provide an environment that gets the absolute best out of them."

He also sent out his own challenge to the players, including the recalled Seamus Quigley, adding: "But I would also say it's up to the players to decide how badly they want to improve.

"Management don't have a magic wand, but we can convince them we provide a set-up that will enable them to become the best they can be, and that's the challenge now for the boys. What are they prepared to do.

"I'm looking forward to seeing that between now and the start of the National League."

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