Fermanagh make Antrim pay price for McVeigh red
Fermanagh 1-13 Antrim 0-8
It was the Ulster championship but not as we know it. Clear skies and a bright sun welcomed the sides to Brewster Park for a game that both sides gave themselves a real chance in.
There was so much at stake but so little on offer. From start to finish it was turgid affair.
Even the sight of a red card from Antrim’s Sean McVeigh failed to get the blood flowing. To the neutral at least, this was a disappointment in terms of a spectacle.
That scarcely mattered to Pete McGrath, who had guided Fermanagh to a first Ulster championship win since 2010.
Even before the sending-off, his side looked to have a little bit more. Over the course of the 70 minutes, tThey restricted Antrim to just two points from play, with the last of those coming in the 13th minute.
However, the Erne men didn’t put the issue to bed until the final ten minutes. Indeed, as the clock ticked past the 60-minute mark, there were just two points between the sides as CJ McGourty’s unerring free-taking gave the visitors just a chance of chinning Fermanagh on the line.
Their nerves were rattling at this stage and some careless wides left the door open for Frank Fitzsimmons’ side. However, they lacked the cutting edge up front to do any real damage and as legs began to tire, the home side kicked on.
Three points in seven minutes - a spell that represented Fermanagh’s best passage of play - settled it and Fermanagh put some gloss on the scoreline when they were awarded a penalty after Daniel Kille was pulled down.
Sean Quigley kept his cool to convert from the spot and flatter his side a little, though there was no doubting that the sending-off had a profound influence on the game.
“I think the referee refereed the game well,” McGrath said of Maurice Deegan. “He wasn’t an obstacle to play being moved on, he didn’t obstruct play. He got his calls right generally.
“We were playing with a lot of caution, a lot of apprehension almost. There were some great moves out of defence, fluency, off the shoulder, supporting each other in the second half, which identify what this team is about and it’s how we like to play.
“But the first game in the Ulster Championship, for any team, you go in with a wee bit of worry. The fact that Fermanagh haven’t won a championship match since 2010, these things play on people’s minds. There is no doubt about that.”
“Losing Ruairi Corrigan then Ryan McCluskey to injury could have had a negative impact on the mindset of the team but it didn’t.
“We came out in the second half to play with a lot more authority, a lot more certainty and the extra man, James McMahon, had an impact on the dynamic.”
The first half was a tight affair until the dismissal. When McVeigh was sent to the line, Fermanagh were just a point to the good. And by the short whistle, that lead stood at 0-6 to 0-4, though it might have been more.
The Erne men created two clear sights on goal but on the first occasion Marty O’Brien’s effort went well wide. Then, when Paul McCusker punched through, his effort on goal was neither a point nor goal attempt and it dropped harmlessly wide.
Antrim manager Fitzsimmons performed major surgery on his side early in the game. By the time they, emerged for the second half, he had already changed half of his starting forwards, offering some insight as to where their troubles lay.
But whatever chance they had went up in smoke with the dismissal of McVeigh.
“I thought the Fermanagh guy (Ciaran Flaherty) slipped as Sean was coming in with the shoulder, maybe I’m wrong, I thought it was harsh. What did you think,” Fitzsimmons wondered.
Antrim go into the back door but Fermanagh march on to face Monaghan. It’s a game McGrath would like to see in Kingspan Breffni Park for obvious reasons.
“That’s a decision we might have an input to, I’m not sure. There have been semi-finals in Breffni before. They are talking about trying to spread the games around these big stadiums so here’s an opportunity with the fact that Clones is Monaghan’s home ground,” he said.
There they’ll face Malachy O’Rourke, who knows the Fermanagh set-up well.
McGrath reported that Corrigan and McCluskey, who picked up injuries yesterday, would be right for that game. Team captain Eoin Donnelly will also be in contention and with their first goal of the season achieved, McGrath has his eyes firmly fixed on the prize.
“(O’Rourke) has done a marvellous job with Monaghan and he knows these players very well. But having said that we know the Monaghan players very well,” he said.
“They have been in the spotlight for the last two years so we know what their strengths are and maybe what their Achilles heel is.
“We look forward to that game and will go into that game utterly determined to give it our best shot because we had two targets at the start of the year: promotion and to win the Ulster Championship.”
scorers – Fermanagh: S Quigley 1-4 (1-0 pen, 0-4fs), R Jones 0-3, B Mulrone 0-2, C Flaherty, P McCusker, T Corrigan, D Kille 0-1 each. Antrim: CJ McGourty 0-6 (6fs), K McGourty, R Murray 0-1 each.
Fermanagh – C Snow 7; M Jones 7, N Cassidy 7, M O’Brien 7; D McCusker 6, R McCluskey 7, J McMahon 7; R Jones 8, R O’Callaghan 6; B Mulrone 7, C Flaherty 7, P McCusker 6; T Corrigan 6, S Quigley 7, R Corrigan 6. Subs: D Kille 7 for R Corrigan (22), A Breen 7 for McCluskey (30).
Antrim – C Kerr 7; R Johnson 6, S McVeigh 5, C Burke 6; J Crozier 7, T Scullion 6, N Delargy 6; C Murray 6, M Sweeney 6; J Laverty 7, O Gallagher 6, P McBride 6; K McGourty 7, M Pollock 6, R Murray 6 Subs: CJ McGourty 7 for Pollock (25), J Dowling 7 for Gallagher, D Lynch 6 for McBride (both ht), C Duffin 6 for Johnson (54), N O’Neill for Sweeney, D McAleese for Murray (both 61).
Ref – M Deegan (Laois)