By Colm Bradley
So, that is the McKenna Cup over with. Three games and three losses. In ten days the league starts with a trip to Breffni Park to take on Cavan on Saturday Feb 1 and there can be no argument that it will be a very tough campaign for Fermanagh.
Long before a ball was kicked in the McKenna Cup we knew that things were going to be difficult in the league but the three games in the warm up competition has simply confirmed that notion and more.
Pete McGrath has the whiff of an optimist about him but in truth that optimism will have been sorely tested over a seven day period where he saw his side lose three times. Still though there are positives to be taken and whatever else the McKenna Cup offered it did at least provide an avenue for the Down man to learn a good bit more about what he has at his disposal. And the two time All Ireland winning manager will also have learned a good deal about how senior inter county football has changed over the past decade.
With all that in mind what exactly did we learn about this Fermanagh team;
In a way it is a very good thing that Fermanagh looked as unfit as they did. Because if we were in flying shape then we would surely be in bother. But no, the reality is that we were well off the pace. A number of Fermanagh players have spoken about the fact that Pete McGrath was appointed rather late in the day and that this had a knock on effect on when training could start.
On a separate issue this shows that no county team is really sticking to the dedicated off season but that is a story for another day.
In the here and now what is a fact is that there is no doubt a few players who are not in the shape they would want to be in. And to be fair to the Fermanagh management team this is something that they have recognised from the start and by all reports the players are working hard.
But despite the best efforts of the management and the players I can’t see how the team will be up to pace by the time they reach Breffni Park. The reality is that it could be the third or fourth league game before the squad is fit enough to see games through to the end. This could put the team under pressure for wins.
The Quigley brothers accounted for the lion share of the scoring during the McKenna Cup. Seamus played in all three games while Sean played in just over two. No other Fermanagh player scored twice in the McKenna Cup. That has to be a big worry for McGrath. Paul Ward was a regular scorer, especially in league football, over the past few years and he is not in the panel while Shane McCabe is another absentee.
Tomas Corrigan was back for the latter stages of the last McKenna Cup and he will have to hit the ground running when the league commences.
Fermanagh need more people contributing to the scoreboard as an over-reliance on the Quigley brothers will mean that it is easier for oppositions to set up defences to curb their threat. There needs to be a number of scoring options so defences have to think about shutting down more than one attacking avenue. At the present we only have one plan to score. One plan won’t win you games at this level.
Fermanagh fans will be delighted with the news that Ryan McCluskey is returning to the fold. The McKenna Cup teams had a real look of inexperience about them and the Enniskillen Gaels club man will be badly needed on the training pitch, in the dressing room and of course on the pitch. Having Barry Owens back would have a similar effect on squad and it is hoped that the Teemore man will be back before the end of the league.
Division three is full of teams who are hardened and who are streetwise. It is the most competitive of leagues for the simply reason that the fight to avoid relegation is more intense than in division one or two.
We will need either one or two more experienced players on the field or a few others to assume more responsibility if we are to remain in the division.
Other teams ahead of the curve
Watching the McKenna Cup semi final between Monaghan and Cavan it was noticeable just how far ahead of Fermanagh both counties are. In terms of physical strength there was an obvious difference. It has been a common complaint of successive senior management teams that we simply cannot compete physically with the vast majority of teams. This needs to be addressed and a full time strength and conditioning is a must appointment.
It was also clear that both Cavan and Monaghan have enjoyed continuity. They have a clear game-plan and a clear understanding of the roles of each other as players. This does not happen over night. For Cavan they have been working on this for four years at under-age level and the players who have come through that are so integrated into the system that things are second nature to them.
We are a long way from anything like that in Fermanagh if truth be told.
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