Friday 19 January 2018

Hughes: Down face 'fight for their lives' to avoid Erne upset

Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

THE bright spark who coined the phrase "there are only two certainties in life -- death and taxes" clearly knew nothing about Ulster GAA.

If he had, the phrase would have finished "...death, taxes and a shock result somewhere in the Ulster Football Championship."

We wonder could this be a 'Shocker Sunday' for Down, the aristocrats of Ulster, who travel to Brewster Park, Enniskillen, to face Peter Canavan's Fermanagh?

Former Monaghan star Eugene 'Nudie' Hughes agrees there could be an upset, but doesn't expect to see it happen to Down -- at least, not yet.

Nudie was in Clones last Sunday to see his native county battle past Antrim to clinch a place in the provincial semi-final against the winners of Fermanagh v Down on June 24.

The Monaghan players and management will run the rule over the teams in action tomorrow at Enniskillen, but, for Hughes, there's only one winner. He cites Fermanagh's loss to Wicklow in the recent Division 3 league final as a setback to confidence and also a great chance for a spying mission by James McCartan's Down.

"The defeat to Wicklow would have set Fermanagh back a bit after they had progressed so well through the league. They would have gone to Croke Park expecting to get through that match," said Hughes.

robust

"But it would have been a lesson for Down. They'd have learned a lot from watching the Fermanagh game against Wicklow. Down are a robust side, they're more flamboyant with the ball than Fermanagh and have more penetration.

"At the same time, sometimes the more rawness I see in a team, the more difficult it is for the favourites to play them, and that's how I look at this game, particularly because it's in Enniskillen.

"Down will be fighting for their lives the whole way through until about 45-50 minutes and then I'd expect their experience to take over and see them through."

Meanwhile, in Fermanagh, the county's followers are a tad more optimistic than Nudie Hughes.

They see the league run as a big plus, and are confident Canavan's guidance will boost the players and enable them consign the Croke Park disappointment to the history books.

Hughes agrees Canavan's reputation and experience will be a factor, but doubts whether it will be enough to overcome the Mourne men.

"Peter Canavan is the master of tactics and championship know-how, and the one thing in Ulster football -- and this can be guaranteed and next summer will be no different -- any team, on any given day, can upset the odds.

"That's 110pc certainty. I've watched so many games throughout the last number of years and there always is an upset.

"Down would expect to beat Fermanagh, but they'll only know too well that it's not that long ago since Fermanagh sent them packing from Brewster Park in the championship.

methodical

"Both teams have shown professionalism in their preparation and the methodical styles they use, but Down will be well geared for whatever Fermanagh throw at them," said Hughes.

Down boss James McCartan revealed either a mischievous sense of humour or a cold-eyed sense of reality when he commented during the week: "It's very difficult to assess Down because Down is the type of team that could lose against anybody."

Mind games, anyone? And what about suggestions that Fermanagh's top forward, Seamus Quigley, would not start the match?

Hughes has an open mind, but said: "The way managers keep their cards close to their chest, I wouldn't be surprised who lines out on the Fermanagh team or the Down team.

"At the end of the day, mind games are always being played. Managers feel the longer they can keep the opposition wondering who's going to come in or be left out is part of the whole pre-match build-up.

"For me, it won't make any difference who's in, who's out, or who's injured.

"Ultimately, both teams have to play whoever is put in front of them. Each of these managers knows the other team inside out, so it won't make any difference in that respect," said Hughes.

As for Monaghan awaiting the winners, the former All Star doesn't have a preference. "The last few years Monaghan have had the bogey sign on Down whereas Fermanagh have done it to us.

"No matter who Monaghan play, they have to look on it as a final, a one-off. That's the way we'll be gearing ourselves for it in Monaghan," said Hughes.

Irish Independent

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