By Mark McGoldrick
BEING confident and composed on the ball is one of Erne boss Kieran Donnelly’s key messages to his players this week as they prepare for a crunch Ulster Championship opener against champions Derry on Saturday.
Having reviewed the video of the Division Three final defeat to Cavan, the Fermanagh manager said that the most disappointing aspect of their performance was the cheap unforced errors that they coughed up, and he’s well aware that his players can’t afford to do that against the bookies’ favourites for the Anglo Celt trophy.
“We’re very focused on what we have to do to win the game,” anticipated Donnelly. “Against Cavan, we gave the ball away too easily and we had a lot of unforced errors which was unlike us.
“That was the most disappointing thing and we’re very aware that against a team like Derry, we can’t afford to do that. When you’re turned over by the good teams, they’ll hurt you.”
Like Fermanagh, Rory Gallagher’s Derry suffered a league final defeat, which came at the hands of Dublin who put four goals behind what is usually a rugged and non-negotiable Oak Leaf defence.
Donnelly, however, feels that like Fermanagh, fatigue and the run of intense games had a big bearing on Derry’s defeat to the Dubs.
“We’ve looked at different games where teams have beaten Derry. Dublin are an excellent team and some of their scores were of the highest quality,” said the Brookeborough man.
“For large parts, Derry had some good patches of play and they made Dublin look ordinary. We’re very clear on where Derry’s strengths are and where they can hurt us.”
A few days out from the game, and speculation is rife as to whether the likes of Conor Glass and Padraig McGrogran will feature for Derry after they suffered injuries against Dublin, and if Ciaran McFaul will be back in the Oak Leaf starting line-up following his return from America.
But Donnelly isn’t getting caught up or carried away in the rumours about who will be playing for Derry on Saturday.
“All you can do is cover for all eventualities,” said the Erne boss. “We just plan for every line-out and position. They have injury issues, but we still have to plan accordingly and be ready for whatever team plays.”
And he feels that having secured promotion to the second tier proves that his players are well capable of taking on the likes of Derry.
“It’s all about the (Ulster) Championship and we feel like we’ve played three or four championship games already as it’s very intense week-on-week,” said Donnelly.
“As a team, all year we’ve been very focused on whatever team we’re playing and we’ve gained confidence from those tight games. It’s as good a challenge as you want and if you’re ever going to keep pushing on, you’re going to have to win these types of games.”
Other than long-term injury absentees Ciaran Corrigan and Joe McDade, Donnelly’s reporting a ‘clean bill of health’ and he says that competition is growing as his players battle for a place in the 26-man squad.
“It’s the toughest part of my job,” he said. “Very often it comes down to different scenarios and match-ups and size, that’s how you pick the 26.
“Training has to be competitive and the whole squad is looking forward to it. They’re in a confident mood.”
Saturday’s fixture will be the first time this season that Fermanagh has played a competitive game in Brewster Park, but the Erne boss isn’t concerned or worried about their lack of playing time on the surface.
“We enjoyed our time in Ederney and we felt that it suited us well,” said the Fermanagh manager. “But our players know Brewster Park very well.
“They are all familiar with it and they’ve played there enough, so it won’t be an issue for this team.”