A new era commences tonight in Brewster Park.
Rory Gallagher, an Erne great on the field, takes charge of his county’s fortunes for the first time on the other side of the chalk.
He faces Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan, a side which has caused Fermanagh more than their fair share of problems in recent years. The Ernesiders have suffered seven successive losses at the hands of Monaghan, a number of those being fairly heavy beatings.
Indeed the last time Fermanagh got the better of Monaghan was in a year when Gallagher was managed by O’Rourke and finished as the county’s top scorer. You have to go back to 17th January 2010 for that victory, Fermanagh winning that Brewster Park McKenna Cup clash 0-12 to 0-8. The shine was taken off that by Monaghan getting revenge with a 0-21 to 2-8 Ulster semi-final win over their neighbours.
It’s no secret that Rory Gallagher has had his charges putting in some punishing sessions since taking over. With that in mind it is difficult to guess what the attitude will be to tonight’s McKenna Cup curtain raiser.
Will the competition be treated as mere game-time ahead of the league, or will the Erne management be gunning to put medals in players’ pockets and win a first McKenna Cup since 1997?
The mood music from the Erne camp indicates they are aiming for an extended run in the competition rather than just shaking off cobwebs. If that’s the plan they are going to have to get a result against the Farney men, and, as recent history shows, those aren’t easy won for Fermanagh teams.
“We spoke to the boys about this,” Erne mentor Ryan McMenamin told the Fermanagh Herald. “Monaghan were probably in the same boat as Fermanagh. For about 20 years they were always that up and coming team and could never break through.
“But they are a division 1 team now and, making no bones about it, we’re a division 3 team. They are going to be favourites going into the game. They are a good team, they’ve won Ulster championships. Watching back the video from the championship last year once they turned the screw on us in the second half they moved away from us.
“It’s the McKenna cup and as the first game of the season it will be rough and tumble enough with every man trying to impress. I don’t think Malachy’s going to be looking to come to Brewster to get beat and we’re not going to want to get beat in the first game so it makes it interesting. But whatever the result, it’s just the McKenna Cup and it’s about us trying find the way we want to play. Hopefully we give it a good rattle though.”
While it’s a Wednesday night game, this McKenna Cup clash should attract a large crowd to Brewster Park. It is a glamour derby against Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan on home soil and the Fermanagh faithful will be keen to cast a first eye over this first Rory Gallagher team and get a flavour of what the future might hold. McMenamin is keen to use the opportunity to turn Brewster Park into a fortress for the Erne men.
“Looking back on last year in the league for Fermanagh it’s [home form] one of the things that let us down. It’s definitely good to get a good crowd in, especially for the players, and it really is all about them. They’ve been training hard over winter and they want to go out and enjoy this game. Hopefully the lads can give a performance and get the crowd behind them.
“The players are really looking forward to playing Monaghan, because this is a top eight team in Ireland, they’ve been in Division 1 this past number of years, they’ve held their own and they’ve won Ulsters. They are a big draw and they have some great players with Conor McManus and the Hugheses. We’re just going to look forward to it and hopefully our boys can turn out a performance.”
This is McMenamin’s first stint involved in a senior inter-county back-room team. He is content with the ground work Fermanagh have put down so far, but realistic enough to understand that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
“Since we’ve got back training the fellas have been training well and the boys seem to be enjoying the football. There’s been a good attitude and you expect that at county level. We’ve worked towards the Monaghan game and the lads are happy to have the game. When you’re training in the winter its can seem long enough until the next game.
“We’re happy with where we are at at the minute, but we know ourselves that we’re probably going to be judged on last year. Last year the performances probably weren’t acceptable and I think the players know that and we are going to have to up our performances all round.”
Posted: 2:12 pm January 3, 2018
A life-long supporter of Trillick St Macartan’s GAC, Willie was a former club chairman and treasurer.