Erne captain McCusker doesn’t fear Armagh

By Mark McGoldrick

FERMANAGH captain Declan McCusker is urging his teammates to ‘bring the aggression’ to Armagh in Brewster Park this Sunday when they kick off their Ulster Championship campaign.

The odds are heavily stacked against Fermanagh in this provincial quarter-final but McCusker is relishing the opportunity of taking on Kieran McGeeney’s Orchard men.

“Everyone is chomping at the bit,” said 33-year-old McCusker.

“We know that Armagh are going to be aggressive and they’ll bring serious physicality, as Kieran McGeeney’s teams always do, so we’ll definitely have to match that from the start.

“As good as they are, I don’t think we have any need to fear them or anything,” added the Fermanagh captain.

Last week, Armagh suffered a slender one-point defeat to a youthful Donegal side in the Division Two League Final in Croke Park.

The Ederney half-back is well aware of the challenge that the Orchard County will pose.

“They [Armagh] showed in Division Two how good that they are,” said McCusker.

“They didn’t concede any goals until the last game and they were defensively solid and conceded the least goals in all of the divisions. They have got serious firepower up front, so it’s going to be a tough battle.”

Fermanagh and Armagh have already locked horns this year, in round five of the league when McGeeney’s side ran 0-15 to 0-11 winners.

The Orchard County pulled away in the latter part of the game and McCusker knows that Fermanagh must stay within touching distance of their opponents if they’re to pull off a shock result.

“We played them [Armagh] earlier in the year and we were competitive. When they got ahead, we never looked like pegging them back but I hope we can be competitive and learn from that,” he said.

“We played them in 2018 in Brewster Park and we turned them over. We would have been big underdogs that day as well, so we’ll be hoping for the same again.”

The league ended in disappointment for Fermanagh, who dropped back down to Division Three. Putting it to one side though, McCusker feels that his teammates can learn a lot from that campaign.

“We were competitive with a lot of good performances. The Cork game was a stinger, because we should have saw it out and it cost us big time in terms of staying in Division Two,” he said.

“To get five points considering the players that stepped away in Jonesy [Ryan Jones], Seán Quigley, Conall [Jones] and Luke [Flanagan] not committing and Garrett Cavanagh being injured.

“We lost Jonny [Cassidy] and Darragh [McGurn] for the whole league and Breeno [Aidan Breen] for most of the league and Ryan Lyons.

“There’s a lot of experience and a lot of quality that we were missing and we were still very competitive and should have stayed up.”

As one of the most experienced campaigners in the Fermanagh squad, McCusker has been a consistent and top performer for Kieran Donnelly’s side.

The pacy Ederney clubman has been pleased with his own performances to date;

“It’s been a good enough league for me personally,” said the 33-year-old.

“Last year I picked up an injury and struggled to get into the team, so now it’s nice to be fit and not have niggles and be playing. That’s what you want to be doing when you’re playing county football.”

McCusker also reckons that the younger players in the Fermanagh squad learned a lot from the league. He feels it’ll benefit them in the Ulster Championship campaign.

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but when someone steps away, it gives another player a chance to step up,” said the Erne captain.

“When you look through the team, there’s six or seven players who have been playing regularly that weren’t maybe starting a lot of the games last year.

“That’s a great experience for boys to have, especially when a lot of the boys are young. For the next few years, it’s going to be a vital experience for them.”

Not many outside the county will give Fermanagh a chance on Sunday, but the underdog tag doesn’t faze McCusker or his teammates.

“I don’t think we’d have any worries about our fitness and it’ll just be about bringing the aggression and facing up to Armagh’s physicality,” he said.

“Training has been very good this past while, since the Cavan game. We still have a few wee niggles, but hopefully we’ll get the boys back on the pitch.”

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