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Ricey is set for another battle with Armagh



Getting heated: Ryan McMenamin (left), in his Tyrone playing days, has an exchange of views with Armagh’s Stevie McDonnell

Getting heated: Ryan McMenamin (left), in his Tyrone playing days, has an exchange of views with Armagh’s Stevie McDonnell

Getting heated: Ryan McMenamin (left), in his Tyrone playing days, has an exchange of views with Armagh’s Stevie McDonnell

With the first league game of the season in the balance against Wexford in Brewster Park, a tense match exploded on the sideline underneath the John Vesey Stand. Players, officials and backroom staff all became embroiled in a rolling maul.

When things settled, McMenamin looked like a boisterous child with his jumper covered in muck. He was sent to the stands.

"My main concern was player health and safety," he said in an interview afterwards to the obvious mirth of anyone with a grip on satire.

The cost was a touchline ban, but the reward was an instant buy-in from the Fermanagh fans. He was now 'Ricey', instead of 'McMenamin', to them. They had already been taking to the Dromore man anyway since he made a couple of mischievous pitch incursions in the McKenna Cup semi-final against Tyrone.

Looking like an Americana rocker, with an ice hockey t-shirt giving away his Canadian heritage, he laughs: "I got a couple of WhatsApps from Niall Sludden afterwards right enough. He informed me that I didn't teach them to tackle very well!

"Maybe because Tyrone won, it made it easy for me personally."

Even when he was in the business of winning All-Irelands, McMenamin was serious about coaching. He took various underage teams in Dromore and built up a hero status with them. A couple of years back, he and Brian McGuigan were drafted onto Mickey Donnelly's backroom team for the county minors.

So in thrall to the game he is though, that last year at 39 he was still Dromore's most important player when they faced Clonoe in Carrickmore in the first round of the Tyrone Championship.

An injury to McMenamin upset the balance and, after he came off, his team had to try to manage without the calm assurance and on-field coaching that Ricey brings.

After that game, Rory Gallagher sat down with him and made his pitch for him to come into a fairly high-level backroom.

"I was curious," says McMenamin now.

"When any county manager wants to come and ask you to coach for any team, you do have to go and see what would be involved. And lucky enough I had a chat with Rory about it. The two of us sat over a coffee and football-wise, we probably hit it off."

Before he signed off on it, he sought the counsel of two football men he trusts in Mickey Harte and Peter Canavan - a man who had managed Fermanagh for two seasons.

"Mickey is one of the best managers I have ever played for and he is always there," marvels McMenamin.

"I met him one day for a coffee and you are always bouncing ideas off him, chatting to him about different things. The phone is always open with him.

"He tells you what you like to hear most of the time! But in fairness, we can chat about different players and different things - the Tyrone set-up, different players within the county.

"It's nice to be able to do that and he is open enough to do that. I send him the odd text just to keep him on his toes!"

Canavan's verdict was crucial.

"I did mention it to Peter, I was chatting to him and, again, he had nothing but good to say about the boys and how they trained," he explains.

"He just said it was a great opportunity and I had to take it. If Peter Canavan said it was okay, I am happy to go."

Their first year has already been a success in winning promotion. They took a little wobble in mid-season with a loss away to Westmeath, but ground out an excruciating 0-7 draw with Armagh, and a win over Longford with the last play of the league campaign, a monster free from the boot of Seamus Quigley.

The downside after that was an underwhelming defeat to tonight's Brewster Park opponents Armagh in the Division Three league final. But they have the basics in place.

In the 2017 league, they leaked 12 goals. This year, it was a goal a game.

Incidentally, their card count has gone through the roof.

"The players themselves said they thought they were maybe a bit too nice in the league, and they wanted to get back to 2015 and '16 form when they were very solid defensively. They definitely played with an edge then," states McMenamin.

Growing up on the border of the two counties, he sees little difference in the mentality of Tyrone and Fermanagh players, but feels a little more work is required to convince Erne players they are worthy of success.

"I think we have been telling them that they are as good as players out there. It's just down to the boys believing," he says.

"Armagh are probably at a great advantage to us at the minute - our boys have been playing club football and they have been training in Portugal," he adds in a mischievous reference to Armagh's Portugal training camp.

And McMenamin is gone.

The Ulster Championship is richer for his presence.

Belfast Telegraph