By Mark McGoldrick
FERMANAGH manager Joe Baldwin said his side ‘will not fear anybody’ as they kick off their Nickey Rackard Cup campaign on Saturday against a formidable Donegal in Letterkenny.
“Donegal recently competed in the Division 2B league final, so on paper, they’re considerably well ahead of us,” said the Erne boss.
“We’re definitely going to be the underdogs for this game, but we will not fear anyone in the championship, and some teams will look at us and say that we could be sticky to play against.”
It’s been a tough season so far for Baldwin and the Erne hurlers. Depleted by injuries, Fermanagh struggled in the National Hurling League campaign and they suffered relegation to Division 3B following a final-game defeat to Armagh in Middletown just over three weeks ago.
Baldwin feels that his players can take plenty of positives from their league campaign, despite the overwhelming feeling of disappointment at dropping down a division.
“As I’ve said to the players, we just have to park it to one side and deal with it next year,” said the Fermanagh manager.
“We were very competitive in every game and there was only a puck of a ball between us and a league final and relegation. We’re looking forward to the championship. There’s a faster ball and harder pitches and that will suit us, I think.”
But Baldwin still has some major injury concerns, reporting that there are ‘a couple of wee niggles’ in the camp, alongside their long-term absentees.
“John (Duffy) is a long-term injury and he’s probably our most experienced player,” said the Erne manager, “Thomas (Cleary) recently dislocated his finger and he’s going to be a week or two (out).
“Mark (Hoy), John (Porteous) and Nigel (McGrath) are working as hard as they can to get back.
“But losing the likes of Tom (Keenan), Conor (McShea) and John (Duffy), they are all big blows to us this season.”
In preparation for Saturday’s Nickey Rackard Cup opener against Donegal, Baldwin took the Fermanagh squad down to Waterford last weekend for a training weekend. He feels it was a very ‘useful exercise’.
“We worked a lot on our handling and discipline, tidying those up (in Waterford),” he confirmed. “Then we had a very productive game against Tyrone (last Tuesday) where we tried some new things out.”
And Baldwin is confident that his players will rise to the challenge in the upcoming competition.
“We’ve always said to the boys to enjoy their hurling and we’re very much looking forward to it and we’re just hoping to enjoy it,” said the Fermanagh manager.
“The championship will be difficult and so will Donegal. We played them last year in the championship and there was only a puck of a ball between us, and our boys will take good experience from that.
“The next couple of weeks and months are going to be very exciting for anyone that plays or follows Fermanagh hurling.”