By Katrina Brennan
AS Kieran Donnelly arrived in the Croke Park press area to chat with the half dozen or so reporters waiting, the disappointment of the Division Three final defeat to Cavan was etched on his face.
Losing finals is all too commonplace for Fermanagh teams. In fact, this was their seventh successive final defeat, going back as far as 2008 when they lost a Division Three final to Wexford and an Ulster final replay to Armagh in the same year.
The familiarity of defeat doesn’t make it any less painful though.
“We’re just disappointed for our county. We work very hard,” said a dejected Donnelly afterwards. “We were very focused on winning a trophy today.”
A combination of turnovers, misplaced passes and poor decision-making cost the Erne men on Saturday evening, especially in the second half when Cavan outscored Fermanagh 11 points to four.
“Conditions were slippy and you couldn’t really take contact in those key zones, we did that and we got turned over. Cavan’s tackle was aggressive and good. We did feel at times we were stopped and we didn’t get a fluidity to our game due to that. That was massive for us.
“We’re very disappointed because we prided ourselves on being able to hold the ball well under pressure and that didn’t happen at key times.
“We led to a lot of their scores by our mistakes, missed passes and taking contact. Cavan were aggressive and physical and that led to a lot of it, but our decision-making was poor at that critical juncture of the game.”
And Donnelly questioned some of referee Anthony Nolan’s decisions too.
“The free count in the first half, we felt a couple of calls went against us. We were very disappointed in that.
“I felt that the one with the kick-out was a real obvious one, there was two plays in it and it was given for a free in. That’s a massive call on a day like this.
“It wasn’t the losing of the game but it changes mindsets going in at half time. But no, we led to our own downfall. Cavan are an excellent team as well, they’ve got excellent players in key positions and they stepped up for them today at key times.”
Paddy Lynch at full forward was one such player and in defence Pádraig Faulkner did an excellent job on Ultán Kelm who ran riot the previous week in Breffni Park.
With a huge weight of expectation on the Belleek man’s shoulders going into Sarurday’s game, it was clear Mickey Graham and co. were not going to let the same happen again.
“It’s a tough one for Ultán, he comes in there and he’s been built up and he’s been excellent for us all year,” said Donnelly.
“Today, he was well shackled but it wasn’t from a lack of effort from Ultán.
“He kept showing and working hard but that happens to a lot of players on days when probably the big focus from Cavan would’ve been on him.”