A little bit of déjà vu. At this point in last year’s league programme Fermanagh were facing another tricky away assignment.
That time they were denied at the death in the Athletic Grounds as Armagh took full points, leaving Pete McGrath’s men perched perilously in the division.
Fermanagh recovered well from that setback last season, but coping in the division isn’t what Pete McGrath is about. He has emphatically set out promotion as his side’s target for the year. And with two games played, one would have to say that is a live possibility. No team is setting the division alight and if the Ernesiders can string a few results together anything could happen.
One factor not in their favour is that of their remaining five NFL games, three are lengthy away trips. And they don’t come lengthier than the jaunt to Páirc Uí Rinn on Sunday.
One man travelling full of confidence is Eddie Courtney. Fermanagh have long been searching for a consistent scoring third option up front to take some of the heat off Tomás Corrigan and Sean Quigley. The Aghadrumsee man has impressed and looked to be hitting his stride against Galway, particularly in the first half.
Courtney admits he’s taking his fortune by the throat.
“Last year was a tough year sitting on the sideline watching, I didn’t make a 26 at all. I knew if I got a crack at it this season that I was going to make it count. Lucky enough I got the nod for the Monaghan game which was a good test. I got in again for Tyrone which was another stiff one. But you need to be playing that sort of opposition to bring yourself on.”
The Magpies attacker is a prolific scorer with the club, and he says he’s now starting to develop real confidence in his ability in the emerald jersey.
“I suppose that’s what I’m doing with the club week in, week out and you have no real choice but to come up with the goods. But it’s definitely a serious step up when you’re trying to get scores against county opposition, they don’t come that handy.
“Sometimes you don’t take on shots that would playing club football, so it’s taking that wee bit of experience. As I said, if I got a starting jersey I was going take my chance and I was going to make it a hell of an ask for someone to take it off me. If you keep playing well he has to keep picking you, that’s the way I look at it.
“The only thing that is going to bring you forward is games. Training, regardless of who it is, be it Mickey Jones or Cian McManus, you still know them inside out. When you go to play someone else you have to be on top of your game or you’re not going to get a sniff. To be fair to Pete he’s given me a fair crack of the whip.”
Against Galway Courtney certainly made his chance count, helped in no small measure by Sean Quigley reprising a role he frequently serves with Roslea, roving out to the 45 and arrowing in forward-friendly ball.
“The first half you had to make hay while the sun shines and when you have Sean dropping that bit deeper he knows what it’s like to play in there and knows exactly the way you want the ball.
“He’ll not delay because he knows how frustrating it can be for an inside forward. When you have a man at a 11 or dropping out from 13 who can do that like Sean you have to make use of every ball you get.”
One aspect of the game plan which didn’t run so well against the Tribe was the hosts’ midfield performance in the second half. Courtney says there’s a realisation now that people have to take responsibility and step up in dynamic situations like that.
“Against Galway when we needed somebody to step up and take a bit of the pressure off, the man you look to is Eoin Donnelly. He’s there week in, week out, but he wasn’t there against Galway and maybe one of the biggest things we learned in that game is that someone else is going to have to step up and do it in the middle of the field. I think we were a bit shook with not having Eoin. I don’t recall having to play as long without him before.
“Apart from that we haven’t really changed anything. We’re still working on getting the ball inside to do harm in there. We just need to get the score board ticking over a bit more frequently.”
You have to go back to 2009 for the last meeting of these sides. That was in front of 1,200 hardy supporters in Páirc Uí Chaoimh. A year before winning an All-Ireland Cork ground their way to a turgid win against the Erne men after leading 0-5 to 0-4 at half time. Only Mickey Jones and Daryl Keenan remain from that clash.
The Rebels haven’t had the ideal start to the season, drawing with Galway before losing to Kildare. They’ll be looking to get their campaign on track again, but Courtney warns them they’ll be getting nothing handy off Fermanagh.
“You’re facing into the unknown a wee bit. It’s going to be a big test, but we’re confident that we’re going to go down there and take something from the game, because there’s a big belief in this squad.
“We have the right attitude going down there. We know how big a game it’s going to be. Cork are sitting on one point and a win for us would probably put them out promotion.”
Posted: 3:03 pm February 25, 2017