Thursday 22 March 2018

Fermanagh best little county in GAA world

Three year old Fermanagh supporter Finn McCallion flying his team's flag after the game
Three year old Fermanagh supporter Finn McCallion flying his team's flag after the game
Eugene McGee

Eugene McGee

Fermanagh have been a team on the way up for the past two seasons with promotion from Division 4 to Division 2 next season while Westmeath are on the way down as they head back into Division 3.

Saturday's qualifier game in Breffni Park merely reflected that change in status with a powerful Fermanagh display in the second half that left Westmeath players, mentors and supporters clutching at straws. When we consider that Fermanagh lost two of their best players, Ryan McCluskey and Marty O'Brien, to black cards in the first half and that their recent star performer Seamus Quigley was little more than a spectator on this occasion, it is clear that this is a substantial team.

But, of course, we have to allow for the fact this game overall and the quality of football played was very far away from the real world of winning All-Irelands - as will be clear when Fermanagh play Dublin in the quarter-final.

But there are a lot of other football counties who should be embarrassed at what Fermanagh and Pete McGrath have achieved in the past two seasons because that county has probably the smallest resources of quality players of any county other than Kilkenny.

So they are entitled to walk proud today and revel in their return to Croke Park for a quarter-final, a feat they have achieved in the past. They will hardly win the quarter-final but they will compete and I cannot see a massive defeat in this instance like we witnessed for Carlow, Clare, Longford twice and Kildare earlier this season.

I often wonder if some Gaelic footballers ever learn from their own mistakes or do their managers ever take the time to prevent such errors when they are constantly repeated. In the Leinster final, Westmeath kicked at least 10 shots into Stephen Cluxton's hands which he made good use of. On Saturday, I counted over 10 more such kicks in a display of aimless shooting by Westmeath.

We constantly hear about how much video and the like is used to dissect teams and players but did nobody in Westmeath notice this diabolical waste of possession in those two games? I believe many team mentors are ignoring fundamental matters relating to the game of football in their desire to look like tactical geniuses.

Pete McGrath has always been a wonderful manager/coach and his work with Fermanagh is amazing. Above all, he has instilled the most important attribute of all in the players - the will to win. We saw it against Roscommon in the previous round and it was so obvious against Westmeath also. When the game was in the balance after half-time, the Fermanagh players, though not playing very well up to then, got the bit between their teeth and went for glory. They destroyed Westmeath by scoring 1-6 without reply in the final 32 minutes of the game.

The man to inspire them Tomás Corrigan comes from a great Fermanagh football family and his personal tally of 1-7 in such an important knockout tie was amazing. Ryan Jones controlled the midfield area for most of the game and played consistently all through while even the better Westmeath players only played well in patches, although the departure of John Connellan through injury proved very costly as his team only scored one point in his absence.

Absent completely was John Heslin, their best player, through injury but based on the second half even he would not have turned the tide.

Westmeath were going backwards from the point when they led by 0-5 to 0-2 in the 24th minute and their final defeat was long, slow and torturous.

They can have no complaints about this result.

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