By Mark McGoldrick
FERMANAGH manager Kieran Donnelly is expecting a huge challenge from Laois this Saturday evening in Brewster Park (6pm) , in the Tailteann Cup preliminary quarter-final.
The Erne County were hoping to make it straight into the last eight, but defeat to Antrim at the weekend means they now face a preliminary clash against Laois. There’s no room for error – this is knock-out football – and Donnelly isn’t expecting anything simple.
“We know from before that they’re (Laois) a very big, physical team. They play a lot of direct football and they’ve racked up a lot of scores,” said the Erne boss.
Throughout the Division 4 league, Leinster Championship and Tailteann Cup campaign, Laois has been very impressive up front, accumulating a staggering 21-165, an average of 19 points per game.
“They are all fairly prolific and they have players that can finish,” said Donnelly
“That is going to be their key strength, and with their physicality, that’s something that we’re going to have to be very careful of on Saturday.”
This weekend’s game is a must win match for Fermanagh, with the winner progressing to the quarter-final, while the loser will be dumped out of the competition.
Donnelly is confident that his players will rise to the challenge though;
“It’s a winner takes all scenario and we’ll be looking for a response,” anticipated the Erne boss.
“We’re very disappointed with the outcome of Sunday’s game against Antrim and we have to go now and try and right the wrongs.”
With the game fixed for Brewster Park, Donnelly says that it will be a good advantage for his side as they aim to bounce back;
“With the players and squad, we feel that we’ve regrouped after tough games like Wexford, after leaving it behind, so all we can control now is our attitude.”
For a team that prides itself on its strong defensive play, Donnelly was disappointed at conceding three goals to the Saffrons.
“We needed more than a draw, so we sort of had to push out and chase the game and they got pockets in behind,” admitted the Erne boss.
“I felt when they went three up we had to try and be that bit more aggressive and they got their runners in behind and they have pace.
“One was a fortuitous goal, but the other, our heads had dropped by that stage,” he admitted.
Donnelly was also very disappointed with some of the scoring chances that the Erne players missed in both halves in the Athletic Grounds.
“We were four-one up and could have been six or seven one up,” said the Brookeborough man.
“I felt we dominated the first 20 minutes and we switched off and started forcing shots, forcing passes and we invited Antrim back into it.”
Heading into the Tailteann Cup quarter-final playoff against Laois, Donnelly knows that his side need to be more clinical in front of the posts.
“We were the better team for two periods of the game, but we weren’t smart enough or weren’t ruthless enough in front of goal to kick on,” conceded the Erne manager.
“We dominated the first 10 or 15 minutes and then we started forcing shots that weren’t on when the extra pass was on and that’s just something that we have to try to learn.
“When we’re on top, we have to be more ruthless and keep doing the simple things, recycling the ball, and there’s learning in that for us,” added Donnelly.
The Erne boss also knows that it will take time for his players to recover from Sunday’s game.
“There are some sore lads in there (the changing room) and the feet are blistered,” said Donnelly.
“It will be a quick turnaround but that’s what we’ve left ourselves in. We have a squad and we’re going to have to use that going into this weekend.”