Donnelly urges county to get behind the squad

THE last time Fermanagh and Meath met was back in March 2019 in division two of the National League. Meath came away from Pairc Tailteann with the win, 2-12 to 0-11, but more importantly, a victory that signalled their long-awaited return to the top tier.

After one year mixing it in division one they dropped back down to division two for the following season and have remained there since.

This weekend, Colm O’Rourke’s charges will hope to get off to a flyer at home to Fermanagh and it’ll be Kieran Donnelly’s men who go to Navan in the hope of creating an upset against the Tailteann Cup holders.

“It is a tough start but no matter who you got in division two it was going to be the same but the fact it’s an away fixture and a Meath team riding on the crest of a wave from the way they finished last year.

So we’re under no illusions it will be a tough venue but our players are looking forward to it. I think the best way to describe it is excitement.”

Meath will unquestionably be favourites to take the points on offer but Donnelly has faith in his young squad;

“They’re a very driven young squad and I would like the county to get behind them because they’re a really, really good group of young lads.

“We’ve a mix of experience through the team as well but I think they do deserve a lot of credit for how they came through last year and the way they handled themselves.”

Fermanagh’s shortfall has oftentimes been up front and in the Dr McKenna Cup their failure to put the scores on the board was frustrating. It’s something they continue to work on as they prepare for a testing campaign;

“We’re very aware in division Two that you’re going to have to maximise all your chances. There’s a simplicity in that. If you’re going to win big games, you have to be hitting your 70 per cent plus shot-to-score ratio – that is our target.

“We know we’re doing a lot of things right, it probably was the case last year that we were getting to those positions and we felt there were five or six really scoreable chances we left behind against Monaghan.

“All you can do is just keep replicating those scenarios in training and analysing them with your video work.”

Fermanagh will be without the services of a few key players this weekend. Jonny Cassidy is currently rehabilitating from a snapped ligament in his foot where he had to undergo surgery and have a plate inserted, ruling him out of the first two league games at least, says Donnelly.

Darragh McGurn’s injury is an ongoing concern and the Fermanagh boss is reluctant to put a timeframe on his return, but did say it will be the “latter stages” of the league before he makes an appearance.

Conor Love picked up a hamstring injury against Monaghan and while Donnelly expected him to be training again this week, his inclusion would be unlikely this weekend against the Royals.

There is some positive news for Donnelly though with the return of Roslea man James McMahon from Australia.

“James is a massive addition to us, his return is very welcomed,” said the Brookeborough man.

“For a start the players are very fond of him, he’s a great personality to have about the changing rooms. He’s a real leader, he would drive standards at training. It will take him a period of time to get back into the swing of things, just because he’s been out of this level for a year but it won’t take him long.

“That experience is vital in among our squad for the season ahead.”

As Donnelly prepares for a campaign without the reliable Sean Quigley, he is hopeful that other players will step into the scoring breach;

“We feel we have those scoring forwards in the squad. We have several players that we have introduced.

“There’s no doubt Sean has left a massive hole but it’s up to others to step up and fill that void.”

As you glance through the fixtures, there’s plenty to be excited about and like many Fermanagh teams of the past have done, they can often overturn the ‘big guns’.

Donnelly believes they can acquit themselves well in this division;

“I feel we have the athleticism and mobility to match a lot of these teams.

“It’s exactly where this team needs to be and if we can establish ourselves as a division two team I think we can only improve.

“We do feel we’re in a good enough place at the start of the league and we definitely are looking forward to this first game.”

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