By Mark McGoldrick
LONGFORD travel to Ederney on Saturday with a trophy already in the cabinet this season, but Fermanagh manager Kieran Donnelly says his players won’t shy away from the Midlanders’ challenge.
Paddy Christie’s side were crowned O’Byrne Cup champions last Saturday after an impressive 3-13 to 0-12 victory over Louth and Donnelly is anticipating a tough test.
“They are probably going to be coming to us on a high from that [O’Byrne Cup win] and they will get a natural kick from that,” said the Fermanagh manager.
“Both teams know each other inside out. You find it could be pretty cagey that way initially, due to that, and again with it being the first game of the league. No doubt there will be very little between both teams.”
An Ultan Kelm goal was the difference when the sides met in the Tailteann Cup last year, and the Erne boss is expecting another close game.
“Paddy Christie really has solidified them from last year and they’ve got a few players back. It’s going to be a tough game, as it always is between the two counties,” said the Brookeborough man.
“The return of the McGivneys, Gary Rogers and so on, are all key players for them coming back. They are a better team than they were the last year or two.”
Despite losing successive McKenna Cup games to Tyrone and Derry, Donnelly feels that the Erne men learned a lot from those games.
“The main thing that we were happy with was how solid we were as a team,” said the Fermanagh boss.
“We were very happy, I’ve said this before, about all that we could control was just our energy, our workrate and our tackling, and I thought our shape and everything was good. We didn’t concede any goals against two strong teams in the McKenna Cup that went to the final.”
Fermanagh were lacklustre in front of goal in the McKenna Cup, and that’s something that the Ernesiders have been working on.
“The obvious one that we’ve had to improve is going forward in the scoring third,” said Donnelly.
“That has been the mixture of, trying younger fellas out because our more experienced fellas have been injured with Darragh [McGurn] and Seán [Quigley] not being available. That has led to that a wee bit as well, and the players we’ve been trying out are young, and there will be a natural ‘bedding in’ period for them as well.”
Donnelly hopes that Darragh McGurn will be available after recovering from a stomach muscle tear, while captain Declan McCusker is a doubt. “Darragh’s only just returned. It’s been slow progress with it,” he said, “he has done bits and pieces, and hopefully he’ll be in contention going forward this week.”