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GAA: Tough test awaits in Portlaoise

Fermanagh Manager, Pete McGrath.  DP59

Fermanagh Manager, Pete McGrath

Fermanagh have a testing round one Qualifier ahead of them as they have been landed with an away trip to Laois, an assignment similar to that of last summer when a trip to Mullingar was the task.

Of course last summer the Erne side rose splendidly to the challenge and produced a top notch team display to overcome a team who had been playing NFL Division One football.

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If nothing else the memory of that superb Fermanagh performance should be motivational tool for this weekend’s fixture.

Quite simply the job can be done.

But it is going to be an exceptionally tough down in the Midlands and Fermanagh will have to deliver perhaps their very best performance of the year if they are to emerge winners from this contest.

Laois will certainly be considered the warm favourites to advance on a number of counts.

They have been playing in a higher league division, are at home and in their last outing put up a commendable effort, at least for some fifty minutes against All Ireland champions Dublin in the Leinster quarter final.

In that clash at Croke Park, Laois were especially effective in the opening half and they were to reach the interval holding down a two point lead but from the changeover onwards the sheer power of the Dubs came to the fore.

Laois, in what proved to be a lopsided second half were to be outscored by 2-13 to 0-6, so in a sense the polish of their excellent first half display was to be dulled by the faltering second half.

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But it was the All Ireland holders and the hot favourites to retain the crown whom they were facing so Laois will have been able to extract lots of positives from the game.

For them the key forward was the superbly talented corner forward Ross Munnelly who contributed an impressive seven points tally, all but two coming from open play. No doubt the Laois management will be looking to the sharpshooting Munnelly to be the spearhead of their challenge this weekend.

Fermanagh will clearly need to come up with a strategy that hopefully will curtail the Munnelly threat.

Also a prominent force in the Laois attack was centre half forward  Donie Kingston, a physically powerful presence and his strength , allied to some direct running proved to be a major asset. Here again Fermanagh will have to find a way to curb his contribution.

The big problem facing Fermanagh has been the failure to keep a reasonably firm grip on the opposition attack. While our own attack has been prolific, unhappily we have been an open door at the back.

And facing the proven quality of players such as Munnelly and Kingston,it is imperative that we do manage to tighten things up to some degree in our defensive set up.

The absence of John Woods won’t have helped matters, the Lisnaskea man one of our most experienced figures, allied to a penchant for advancing forward on sporadic occasions.

Against Antrim the tally conceded was simply much too much and if something in the same region is conceded again it is very difficult to envisage a Fermanagh victory no matter how well the attack performs.

So presumably there will have been considerable thought given to as to how we can shut down at least a percentage of the all too frequent scoring opportunities we have been serving up to grateful opposing forward lines.

The foundation of any victory is essentially based on a solid defensive performance first and foremost so a lot riding on how we can step up to the plate here.

Individually and collectively it has to be much tighter all round.

But of course defences can be greatly helped if they don’t find themselves more or less swamped  with a constant river of attacks to deal with.

Nor with having to deal with precise and probing ball coming in from the middle of the park which has been all too easily arrowed in by an opposition under no particular pressure.

The pressure is on our players in the middle third to win a satisfactory share of possession and when not in possession ensuring that the opposition is harried to the maximum.

In other words this should be an exercise in sheer graft and hard work, always in the face of the opposition, grinding them down with relentless persistence.

Absolutely critical too that we don’t allow what happened at Brewster Park a few weeks ago to happen again.

We can’t find ourselves stalled in the starting blocks and hand Laois the boost of a quick and substantial lead.

Laois may be favourites but they too will be fragile coming into the game. The expectation is firmly on their shoulder but that carries its own weight and their confidence won’t be rock solid.

A robust Fermanagh start or at least a start that has up right in contention will bring a hint of uncertainty into the Laois play and if we can stay in the hunt until the second half is well under way another Fermanagh victory against the odds could well be on the cards.

Fermanagh players have to be relishing the possibility of scoring another upset.

It would be terrific if the sheer exhilaration of last summer’s Mullingar experience was tasted again.

And why should it not?

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