McGrath positivity paying off as Fermanagh live the dream
Fermanagh 1-13 Westmeath 0-7
Fermanagh delivered on Pete McGrath's bold prediction that they would be playing football in August, showing admirable character and overcoming several setbacks to reach an All-Ireland quarter-final for the first time since 2004.
Basking in the immediate afterglow of a hard-earned win over Westmeath in Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday evening, when the players were refreshingly allowed to mingle with supporters on the pitch for almost an hour, Fermanagh waited to learn the identity of their opponents in the last eight on Sunday.
It could have been Kerry, but Kildare's win over Cork set up a first ever meeting between Dublin and Fermanagh and in keeping with the positivity he's displayed all summer, McGrath insisted his team will be no lambs to the slaughter.
"Obviously we are going to have a huge task in our next game but these players do not know when to quit," he said.
"We will approach the game on Sunday in the exact same way as we've approached every other game this year.
"If we don't, we will be sitting ducks, and we aren't going down there to be sitting ducks.
"They are playing exceptionally well, have great heart and character, and if they can take that to Croke Park next week, who knows what will happen?"
Fermanagh overcame a few hurdles to get there, most notably two first-half black cards for Marty O'Brien and Ryan McCluskey, a bad penalty decision against Ruairi Corrigan and an injury to captain Eoin Donnelly.
It was a sequence of events which might have floored them in previous years, but not this time.
Tomás Corrigan starred with 1-7, his cheeky chip over veteran goalkeeper Gary Connaughton in the 64th minute putting the gloss on a fine display.
The on-fire sharpshooter was also given the free-taking duties, after Sean Quigley missed three first-half efforts, and nailed five kicks out of six.
But his two points from play towards the end of the first half, after moving to full-forward with off-colour Quigley coming out the field, were huge scores in the context of the game.
Fermanagh were a bag of nerves, hitting ten first-half wides, and Westmeath were good value for their 0-5 to 0-2 lead.
Even without the injured John Heslin and Ger Egan, they were threatening up front, and John Connellan was the pick of the forwards, but Corrigan's three scores before the break (the last being a tap-over free) left it level at 0-5 apiece at the break.
McGrath revealed that it was Fermanagh's sin-binned duo who delivered the inspirational half-time team talk which galvanised the team to dominate after the break.
"A lot of things were pushing against us but the five minutes before half-time certainly steadied the ship.
"There were a lot of tentative performances in the first half and when you start hitting a lot of wides, it can destabilise a team.
"At half-time we all, management and players, accepted that we weren't playing well enough - but we were still level," McGrath reflected.
"We knew if we went out in the second half and brought our best performance into the game, then we were going to win it.
"And in fairness, the two players who spoke loudest in the changing room were Marty O'Brien and Ryan McCluskey. The players went out to play, particularly for those two."
Westmeath were devoid of ideas and purpose in the second half, going 27 minutes without a score.
In between times, Fermanagh hit 1-6 without reply to take the game away from them.
The loss of John Connellan at half-time due to a hamstring injury did not help, and by the 50-minute mark they had hit 10 wides and dropped six shots short.
Manager Tom Cribbin - who said he was "hopeful" of staying on for a second year in charge - was at a loss to explain why things went so badly wrong in the second half.
"It's very difficult to take and hard to put your finger on what went wrong," he reasoned.
"This is a massive thing for Westmeath to get this far and a lot of nervous energy showed in the players.
"Fermanagh have won a lot of games this year, and we were coming straight off a defeat, and it does tell."
Cribbin refused to blame the 13-point Leinster final drubbing by Dublin as a reason for their second-half no-show.
"We had a good start so you can't blame the Leinster final or anything else," he remarked.
"We seemed to just sit back a bit then and the next thing it was five points all. We just didn't play in the second half."
Scorers - Fermanagh: T Corrigan 1-7 (5f), S Quigley 0-2 (1f), D McCusker 0-2, P McCusker, D Kelly 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Connellan 0-4 (2f), R Connellan 0-1 (f), D Glennon, S Dempsey 0-1 each.
FERMANAGH - T Treacy 7; M Jones 7, T Daly 8, N Cassidy 7; M O'Brien 5, R McCluskey 5, J McMahon 8; E Donnelly 7, R O'Callaghan 7; B Mulrone 6, R Jones 8, D McCusker 7; P McCusker 7, S Quigley 6, T Corrigan 9. Subs: D Kelly 7 for O'Brien (BC, 18), R Corrigan 8 for McCluskey (BC, 28), C Jones 6 for Donnelly (45), C Cullen NR for Cassidy (70).
WESTMEATH - D Quinn 7; K Maguire 6, K Gavin 7, F Boyle 7; K Daly 7, P Holloway 7, J Dolan 7; D Corroon 6, P Sharry 8; J Gilligan 7, R Connellan 7, K Martin 7; J Connellan 7, D Glennon 6, S Dempsey 6. Subs: G Egan 6 for Connellan (h-t), D Lynch 6 for Maguire (41), D Daly 6 for Dempsey (47), G Connaughton 6 for Quinn (55), L Smyth 6 for Glennon (57), P Greville 6 for Holloway (57).
REF - P Hughes (Armagh)
Game at a glance
Man of the match
Tomás Corrigan (Fermanagh)
Switched to full-forward after Fermanagh's bad start and instantly hit two points from play. Took over the free-taking duties late in the first half and excelled, hitting 1-7 in total. His chipped goal was pure class.
Should Tomás Corrigan stay on free-taking duties against Dublin, having taken over from Sean Quigley?
Tomás Corrigan admitted he wouldn't have tried it if the score had been tight, but his deft chip over Gary Connaughton's head had the stamp of composure and quality.
Pádraig Hughes was technically correct with both black cards. Having given a soft penalty to James O'Donoghue in the drawn Munster final, he erred on the side of caution with Ruairi Corrigan, and may have been unsighted, but he was clearly fouled in the square.
Fermanagh 17 (10 first half) Westmeath 12 (7)
Fermanagh 16 (7 first half)
Westmeath 23 (16)
Fermanagh 3 (R Jones 28, B Mulrone 67, N Cassidy 69) Westmeath 3 (K Maguire 38, F Boyle 51, D Lynch 65)
Fermanagh 2 (M O'Brien 17, R McCluskey 26) Westmeath 0
Fermanagh will play Dublin in senior championship football for the first time on Sunday.