It wasn’t pretty, but, with the sides deadlocked at seven points apiece at Barry Cassidy’s final whistle Fermanagh had held on for a vital league point.
That point now means Rory Gallagher’s men travel to Longford’s Pearse Park knowing whoever wins will be playing Division 2 football in 2019.
Fermanagh played the first half with the backing of a tricky breeze and despite holding the Orchard to a solitary point and shooting five themselves, the manager wasn’t hugely impressed with the return.
“It was very difficult conditions, there was a swirling breeze and it was difficult to score,” said Rory Gallagher. “We had it in the first half and we probably felt that four points up at half-time wasn’t enough, we’d have liked to have been six or seven.
“We probably struggled a bit for penetration and with a few balls that went inside we probably didn’t make the most of them. We started off three or four up and we have a habit of starting games well, but we have to stretch that out.”
While the scoring return was the county’s second lowest this year, Gallagher was a bit happier with the defensive showing, especially in the second half.
“I think defensively we were sound, but when it finished seven each it favours defences. We were sound, but we got to punish a bit more. We made the breaks up the field in the second half and got a couple of frees and they weren’t easy.
“[Missing them] left things a bit edgy, but Seamie is the type of player he can get them, for most players they were ten percent shots, but Seamie is the type of player he can get them, for most players they were ten percent shots, but Seamie is good at them.”
Around the centre of the pitch Gallagher will have picked up a few useful pointers for the sides championship meeting later in the year and he pinpointed Armagh’s efficiency on the kick out as a particular area of concern.
“I felt after dominating them early on with their kick out we struggled on our own. We probably should have worked a few shorts a bit better, but Armagh have a few big men and are able to bring on a few big men too. But I felt we battled reasonably well. When we went two men down it would have been easy to throw in the towel, but we dug in.
“We were hanging in, but we would have been very disappointed if we had lost today. Last week we weren’t led until injury time and we weren’t headed at any point today. I’m not saying we deserved to win either day. Last week we didn’t make enough of our breaks in the second half, but today was a very difficult day to play football.”
Another added difficulty was the erratic refereeing. The fans weren’t impressed with Barry Cassidy’s handling of the game and the Derry official got a bit of abuse from the stands at the end of the game. The dismissal of Aidan Breen on a second yellow reduced Fermanagh to 13 men and looked like an especially harsh decision.
“You could argue it was harsh, and maybe it was in the sense that I felt there was a couple of players that should have got them in the first half and indeed black cards,“ said Gallagher.
“Whatever about Aidan’s I’m exceptionally disappointed to pick up straight red cards. We don’t want indiscipline. The two games we lost this year we lost men in both of them. In the modern game you seldom see 14 beat 15.
“I think there was a bit of cynical play there close to the end when Declan McCusker was pulled to the ground. We went to take the free quickly, it’s obstructed and we don’t even get it moved in. If that gets moved in, Seamie taps that over the bar.
“I thought Armagh set out to stop a few of our runners. But we knew what Armagh were going to bring and they brought exactly what we were expecting.”
While Kieran McGeeney’s men gave the sort of showing Gallagher might have been anticipating, the Erne boss did pick up on a few patterns which might be examined further with the sides potentially meeting twice more this season, should Fermanagh reach a Division 3 final.
“Armagh obviously spotted a weakness in our full back line, or what the perceived as a weakness, they tried a lot of high ball in and we rode our luck a couple of times. But after a few scary moments we weathered the storm and handled it middlingly. Obviously they have Ethan Rafferty injured and he’s another big man they can add in there.”
For now the immediate focus is on Longford and 70 minutes of football to secure promotion. Gallagher has seen them first hand and is expecting the toughest game of the season so far.
“I think it’s winner takes all between us and Longford and to be brutally honest we knew it was going to come down to the last two games. I saw Longford playing against Armagh at the start of the year and I thought Longford were very impressive and were marginally the better team.”
Posted: 9:22 am March 24, 2018
Declan McCusker is the only man to have played every minute of Fermanagh’s seven games so far in 2018.