Donnelly expects tough challenge from pacy Saffs

By Mark McGoldrick

‘MENTAL toughness’ will be key for Fermanagh, insists manager Kieran Donnelly, as the Erne men prepare for their final Tailteann Cup group stage game against Antrim on Sunday, at the Athletic Grounds.

Heading into the final game, the Erne men have already qualified for the quarter-final of the Tailteann Cup but a win would guarantee top spot in the Group 4 standings.

The winner of Sunday’s game will ensure home advantage for the next round and an extra week’s break and Donnelly feels it would be very beneficial.

“It has been a long season so far and a week’s break is a massive thing,” said the Brookeborough man, “it makes this game a bit more important, but we’re just concentrating on our performance.”

Table toppers Antrim pose a stiff challenge and Donnelly is well aware what lies ahead this weekend in the Athletic Grounds.

“We’re expecting a lot of pace from Antrim,” said the Erne boss, “they’re extremely athletic and their strength is their pace from deep in (Marc) Jordan, (Peter) Healy, (Patrick) McBride and (Dermot) McAleese.

“Our concentration will have to be at the maximum to keep an eye on those players attacking from deep,” insisted Donnelly.

Over the course of the National League, Ulster Championship and Tailteann Cup, Antrim has scored 16 goals. The Erne manager is wary of the threat that the Saffrons pose in front of goal.

“They’ve scoring forwards that need marked, especially the two McCann’s, Ruairi inside and the other Ruairi on the half forward line,” explained Donnelly.

“They have that mix in their play and Ruairi McCann is a big lad and they tend to mix it and let the odd ball in.

“Their key strength is their ability to run the ball from deep and that will be a key focus for us,” he added.

In their last two games against Wexford and Leitrim, Fermanagh has conceded four goals, two in each game but they have been working hard in training since the Leitrim game a fortnight ago, says Donnelly.

“We felt that it was concentration, more than anything, because our players were in the right positions and we were set up defensively.

“There’s a massive onus on all of us to stay focused because every second at this level is vital.”

The Erne boss will almost have a full hand to pick from for this game with all long term absentees, including Joe McDade and Ciaran Corrigan, back in training ahead of the Antrim game.

“We have a couple of niggles in Diarmaid (King) and Aogan (Kelm), but all long term injuries; Joe (McDade) and Ciaran (Corrigan) have healed and that’s a massive plus,” confirmed Donnelly.

“Joe and Ciaran add quality to our training sessions and that is a major positive for us.”

The Fermanagh boss also confirmed that Kinawley’s Eoghan McManus and Erne Gaels’ player Oisin Kelm have stepped away from the county panel.

Overall though, Donnelly is happy with the players he has available.

“The one thing about these boys is that there has never really been a week where we’ve felt that the lads haven’t maximised themselves,” said the Fermanagh manager.

“We’re happy with the fact that we’ve got to look at a lot of players and the players that are in form have held up their hand for contention.”

This weekend Donnelly is urging his players to bring the good form from the training pitch to the Athletic Grounds for what will likely be another crunch game against Ulster rivals Antrim.

“They’re a very close knit group of players who have worked hard and they’re always very focused, especially when their backs are against the wall.

“We’re very keen to bring our mental toughness into Sunday’s game because we know we’re going to need it.”

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