Gallagher calls for major step-up in more ways than one as Ernemen feel heat
Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher had always envisaged that it might be difficult for his side to take the quantum leap from Division Two to Division One of the Allianz Football League.
What he had not quite bargained for was the possibility of his Erne players rendering it extremely awkward for themselves.
Going into last Saturday's game against Armagh, Fermanagh were being tipped to secure their passage into the top tier without undue inconvenience.
Instead, in an embarrassingly one-sided second-half they floundered and now instead of negotiating what had initially been deemed as a straightforward route into Division One they must face a rejuvenated Meath side at Pairc Tailteann on Sunday (2.00pm) knowing that nothing less than a win will do.
It will be a high-pressure, no holds barred shoot-out between two teams desperate to regain renewed credibility and Gallagher makes no bones about how he views his players' mission.
A draw would secure promotion for Meath and it would also suffice to see Gallagher's men go up assuming that is that Kildare beat Donegal which might just be something of a tall order.
While the permutations are highlighted, Fermanagh boss Gallagher is concerned only with winning.
"It's going to be a very big test for us," he asserts. "If we win, we would need to do so by a fairly decent score and we would need Kildare to beat Donegal.
"There is still a lot to play for and it's all in our own hands. We have just got to lick our wounds and get on with it."
The Fermanagh boss has dissected his team's performance against Armagh and believes a big improvement is needed if they are to make it into the top tier.
"We showed a lack of energy and penetration against Armagh and the big line-breakers in our side weren't able to break them down and I'd be disappointed in that," points out Gallagher.
With 10 points from six games, home advantage and a rampant desire to maintain their current fine form, Gallagher is aware that Meath will represent the biggest challenge that his side will have faced in the league to date.
"We showed bad decision-making against Armagh and we can't afford to repeat that," he stresses.
"You've got to learn from things like that."
With Eoin Donnelly coming back to full fitness, James McMahon and Che Cullen anchoring the defence, Aidan Breen and Conal Jones showing they can offer a threat up front and Ciaran Corrigan an effective link between defence and attack, Fermanagh still have the personnel in key positions that can help to swing the game in their favour.
Corrigan's influence within the side this year has been immense, his selfless running, crisp distribution and tracking back key factors in cementing Fermanagh's strategy which has seen them boast an enviable defensive record to date.
"In some of our games to date we have been a bit disappointed with our shooting. While we were creating enough chances we were not taking enough of them," admits Corrigan.
"But we just have to keep at it. We're getting a big chance now against Meath to show what we can do and it's a match that we need to win. Hopefully we will get big support again. We fully appreciate the manner in which the fans have been getting behind us this year."
Very much the field-marshal in the Fermanagh side, Corrigan looks certain to have a key role against a robust, physical Meath outfit which parades key players in Conor McGill, Shane McEntee, Donal Vaughan, Bryan Menton, Michael Newman, Thomas O'Reilly and veteran Graham Reilly.
It was Reilly's goal that underpinned last Sunday's 1-12 to 1-7 win over Clare, a victory that has put Meath on the cusp of Division One.
Meanwhile, Cathal McCarron has called time on his career with Tyrone. Now based in Athy in Kildare, the tough-tackling defender will concentrate on club activity.
The Dromore man enjoyed a successful career with the Red Hands, picking up an All-Ireland medal in 2008. He was nominated for an All-Star in 2015 and played a key role when Tyrone won their most recent Ulster title in 2017.