All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round 1
Monaghan v Fermanagh
Sunday, 1.45pm, St Tiernach’s Park, Clones
Ref: Maurice Deegan (Laois)
Tough times for the Fermanagh team. As one of the last teams out in championship action, their defeat to Donegal means they have little time to lick their wounds before turning their focus on the qualifiers.
Fermanagh had clearly put a lot into their preparation for the Ulster quarter-final. Physically, mentally they looked like a side with no lack of belly for the battle.
Lapses of concentration were punished ruthlessly by Donegal, and Fermanagh didn’t help their cause with a few costly moments of hesitancy in the attack.
The pain of the defeat still burns with manager Rory Gallagher.
“It’s a disappointment any day you lose in the Ulster Championship. We invested a lot in it. The whole year was focused on it and getting ready for that game.
“The McKenna Cup and League are very important at the time, but it’s about preparing and trying to be at your best to get over the line in the first round of Ulster. When you don’t that it can hurt a lot. But that’s something you have to get used to and move on.
“Disappointment is part of sport and learning to cope with not winning is part of sport unfortunately.
Yes, there was a huge amount of preparation, hunger and desire went in. To see the players turn up and deliver an awful lot of positives, and compete at that level which in Fermanagh is something you can’t take for granted, being able to compete with teams perceived in the top five or six in the country, that was good to see.
“We’ll not get over-dramatic about not getting over the line against Donegal. We know what we did well and we’re well aware of how and where we need to improve, both with and without the ball.
“You saw the standard of some of the Donegal individual players play and their skillsets.
Shaun Patton in goals would be a classic example with his kicking ability and the co-ordination he has with his players out the field. For us not to be able to get our hands on many of those balls was one example.
“Individual instances had a big bearing on us not being able to take it into the last five or six minutes of the game the way we would have wanted to.”
So on Monday morning Gallagher, pictured below, was in Belleek tuned into RTÉ Radio 1 for the first round qualifier draw. One senses he allowed himself a rueful smile as he listened to the draw unfold.
“I heard the draw and after draw three, four and five you were thinking, Monaghan are still in this, we’re still in this. There was almost an air of inevitability.
“That’s the dynamic of the qualifiers. Ourselves and Monaghan were the two highest ranked teams in the National League who went into the qualifiers. But that’s the luck of the draw, you just have to realign.
“It’s a natural reaction for people to say that Monaghan are going to have the motivation for it after last year. Our boys suffered against Monaghan and Donegal manys a time, so there’s huge levels of motivation for ourselves to continue to beat these teams ranked above us. That’s something that’s important to us.
“You don’t get a lot of credit for beating teams it’s perceived you should beat. You want to play the best teams. That’s the challenge for anyone involved in management. Yes, you would have taken a so-called handier draw to get up and running, but that’s not the had we’re dealt.”
Monaghan will have their own demons to slay, after sustaining a demoralising defeat to Cavan. But with Malachy O’Rourke’s outfit having suffered defeat to Fermanagh in the Ulster semi-final last year, hosting the Erne men in Clones will provide ample motivation for the Farney men to get back up on the horse.
“Monaghan present a slightly different challenge to Donegal,” said Gallagher. “Every team is a wee bit different, there’s small bits of room for manoeuvre in every game you play.
“Last year we went into the Monaghan game with a firm belief that we could beat them. This year will be no different. We know we need to do an awful lot right and we can’t afford to miss chances that we did miss against Donegal.
“There were a couple of scores we feel we handed Donegal. James [McMahon] came out and lost a ball, there was the bounce ball which ended up a point. Those were a couple of scores at crucial times that Donegal didn’t have to fight for.
“Ultan [Kelm] had a goal chance, we felt a couple of the counter attacking opportunities should have created goal scoring chances.
“Technical errors can happen, but the likes of Donegal and Monaghan don’t hand us those scores. League is league, but championship is where you learn most, where there’s most at stake. Those split second decisions separate you from being a really top team and being one of the teams trying to get there.”
Going into the do-or-die clash with Monaghan a question mark hangs over the fitness of Fermanagh’s top scorer this year, Sean Quigley.
“Sean carried a niggle into the Donegal game and we just have to see how he rehabs,” said the Erne boss. “It’s not an overly severe hamstring injury, but it’s a niggle which means he couldn’t open out at full speed. We threw absolutely everything into that [Donegal] game, if he was to miss the next game we were going to deal with that, so if he misses this one we’ll have to deal with that.”
Gallagher also indicated he was happy enough with how James McGrath went between the posts on his return to championship football after an extended hiatus.
“James came back in towards the end of the league and I was very happy with him. There’s one or two areas where he knows he could have done a wee bit better. But overall, albeit he played in the championship eight years ago, I thought he was very good especially on his kick outs.
“With the exception of Sean everybody came through the Donegal game. We’ve done recovery work and we’re training hard again. The attitude and the overall fitness of the squad is very positive.”