McGrath masterplan making Fermanagh dangerous again
Fitness and defensive solidity underpin Erne men's resurgence
Published 21/06/2015 | 02:30
At the start of the year Pete McGrath set two targets for his Fermanagh team: league promotion and an Ulster title.
They have already ticked the first box, landed their first provincial championship win since 2010 and today they try to take another step on the ladder towards satisfying their second goal.
It has been a solid season so far, but the seeds were actually sewn late last summer, not long after they were beaten by Laois in the qualifiers.
McGrath identified some new players and, more importantly, oversaw a strength and conditioning programme for his young side. They have been on the up ever since.
They may find Monaghan a bridge too far this afternoon, but they will not be an easy touch either.
After leaking 12 goals in last year's league, for instance, it was clear they had to lay firmer defensive foundations before they could do anything else.
There was a return on this investment: and for most of this year's league, only Offaly had a tighter defence in the country than Fermanagh. They can rack up healthy tallies and still not concede very much. Beating Antrim in this year's Ulster opener has also lifted confidence ahead of today's clash.
Working on their mistakes from game to game is said to be the key to their progression.
Against Limerick in the league, they conceded two goals, and since that game they have worked relentlessly on trying to cut out goal opportunities for opponents.
"That, and having a strong and settled pre-season over the winter are the two main things for us," says one player. "The previous year, Pete only came to us in November 2013 and it was tight to get the pre-season work done, but at the end of last year's qualifiers we put in a lot of work after the Laois game.
"We were devastated to lose that, but the management team got us together soon after and brought in some new guys. We had a great strength and conditioning schedule and we kind of hit the ground."
They surely did, enjoying a decent McKenna Cup, beating Derry in the pre-season competition.
After that came promotion, which takes Fermanagh back into the top two divisions again. There is no disguising the effect their experienced manager is having - on and off the field.
One area where they could be caught today, however, is resources off the bench. In most of his games thus far, McGrath has been slow to look beyond his starting 15.
Monaghan have an obvious edge in this regard but the progress of the underdogs, added to the craft and experience of their boss, makes them a dangerous proposition this afternoon.
It is just as well that Malachy O'Rourke leaves nothing to chance in his attention to detail of analysing opponents. Because, almost from nowhere, Fermanagh have become a side to be reckoned with again.
That is mainly down to McGrath and how he has brought people along with him.
Sunday Indo Sport