Donnelly expects a ‘tough’ and ‘physical’ test from Wicklow

By Katrina Brennan

LAST weekend Fermanagh played their final challenge match in preparation for the start of the Tailteann Cup, with a game against Monaghan, and despite losing it by six points, Erne manager, Kieran Donnelly says “the preparations have gone as well as they could have” as they ready themselves for Saturday’s game with Wicklow.

“We purposely left Monaghan to the end because of their quality and I suppose when you play better teams they make you do things better and we feel our three weeks have been positive,” said Donnelly.

“We’ve got plenty of players game time that just didn’t get it during the league because the games came thick and fast, week on week. So when players were starting they tended to stay in. So, that has been the pleasing thing, certain players have put their hand up and are pushing for places this weekend.”

Wicklow will come to Brewster Park looking to continue their recent championship form and Donnelly is expecting a tough, physical challenge;

“They are extremely defensive, they’re very physical. They played Westmeath and Kildare (in the Leinster Championship) and they beat Westmeath. In both games, they brought a lot of players behind the ball and they have physical size. They would have four players over six foot in their forward line and that in itself brings its challenges.

“They have quality players, they’ve experience in Dean Healy their midfielder, Kevin Quinn (full forward) and (Chris) O’Brien at centre-half forward. They have plenty of quality and they have played two good teams in the championship and have ‘lived’ with them, so there’s no doubt we have to give them utmost respect going into the weekend.”

While Wicklow players might be in slightly unfamiliar territory when it comes to playing in Brewster Park, the last meeting between the two sides wasn’t too long ago. Their Division Three league match back in Febraury 2022 saw Fermanagh let an eight point half time lead slip in Aughrim to finish all-square that day.

Donnelly is well aware though that with Oisín McConville now in charge, there’ll be very little the Garden County won’t know about Fermanagh come Saturday;

“Both Mark Doran (from Down) and Oisín McConville are both Ulster coaches, so they bring that knowledge of Ulster football in general. They’ll know us inside out and that will be a strength of theirs as well.

“We expect them to be organised and it’s very visible in their games that they do bring a level of organisation and are a hard team to break down, so any team that Oisín is involved in is always well coached, so we expect that on Saturday.”

Fermanagh are in the best position they’ve been in all season with the return of some key players from injury. Goalkeeper Sean McNally is fit again, after a ligament injury he sustained against Cork in the league, and the return of the Teemore man is likely to see him line out in goals.

Experienced players Jonny Cassidy and Darragh McGurn are also pushing for places which is positive news for Fermanagh.

“Competition is good at the minute, it’s a tough 15 to pick for the weekend and that’s due to those quality players returning,” said Donnelly.

“It’s the first time all year we’re really picking from a full hand. Ryan Lyons is the only one that’s missing, so that has added to the quality of training as well and being able to be really competitive in those challenge games.

“That has been a massive plus because, no doubt about it, we were massively hamstrung all year with boys out but we still felt that we acquitted ourselves really well but it’s just good to have depth to the squad going into these games.”

The last day out in Brewster Park ended with a heavy defeat to Armagh in the Ulster Championship quarter-final, with the Orchard County punishing Fermanagh with three killer goals. Donnelly knows they’ll have to be better on the ball this weekend;

“We have proven we can be defensively solid when we’re in shape and we just have to protect the ball a bit better – that’s the key in not leaving ourselves open. But we do feel our defensive shape is good when we’re set up but it’s going to have to be because there’s no doubt they (Wicklow) have scoring forwards.”

Getting off to a winning start is something Donnelly feels they are well capable of doing;

“I’m confident in this group of players all the time. We do know it’s going to be tough and we will give them respect. The fact that they beat Westmeath straight away writes off any complacency from anyone because Westmeath won the Tailteann last year and are a good team and they beat a good Division Three Down team, so that in itself tells you how good Wicklow are.

“But, we’re confident that if we bring our best version of ourselves and play the way we can we can get a performance out of ourselves at the weekend.”

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