Wednesday 23 January 2019

Gallagher's tactical masterclass puts Farney men on floor

Ulster SFC semi-final: Fermanagh 1-8 Monaghan 0-10

Monaghan’s Darren Hughes gathers possession under pressure from Fermanagh’s James McMahon. Photo: Sportsfile
Monaghan’s Darren Hughes gathers possession under pressure from Fermanagh’s James McMahon. Photo: Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Some will say it wasn't pretty, but that will matter little to Fermanagh.

Only two counties are without provincial silverware in GAA history - the other is Wicklow - and the Erne men moved one step closer to ending that famine with a tactical masterclass against a listless Monaghan outfit.

Fermanagh’s Barry Mulrone and Ciaran Corrigan celebrate after the game. Photo: Sportsfile
Fermanagh’s Barry Mulrone and Ciaran Corrigan celebrate after the game. Photo: Sportsfile

Ironically, Malachy O'Rourke was Fermanagh manager when they last reached the Ulster SFC decider 10 years ago and Rory Gallagher sat in the stands after not being recalled to the fold. This was sweet retribution.

Gallagher's side - showing huge evidence of Ryan McMenamin's involvement with a mean defence - totally stifled a Monaghan outfit which rarely resembled the side which powered past Tyrone in the previous round.

Fermanagh's rearguard action - often with 15 men retreating behind the ball - worked to perfection, with big hitters like Conor McManus and the Hughes brothers, Kieran and Darren, reduced to spectators for large parts.

An early second-half wide from McManus - marshalled expertly by Che Cullen - was greeted with "not today Conor" from one Fermanagh scribe and it summed up their display.

Monaghan Dessie Mone keeps Fermanagh's Lee Cullen at bay. Photo: Sportsfile
Monaghan Dessie Mone keeps Fermanagh's Lee Cullen at bay. Photo: Sportsfile

With Sean Quigley on target from paced balls and Aidan Breen firing over two points, Fermanagh powered into a 0-6 to 0-4 lead at the break, with the off-colour Farney men failing to score from play until Fintan Kelly's 32nd minute effort.

Time and time again they were frustrated in attack, but when Drew Wylie put them ahead for the first time in the 59th minute, it looked like the storm had been weathered - only for a vicious sucker punch at the death.


Captain Eoin Donnelly was pushed to full-forward as they trailed by two and the old-school tactic paid dividends as he rose highest above Darren Hughes and Rory Beggan to palm the ball to the net for a famous win.

Fermanagh's Ruairi Corrigan. Photo: Sportsfile
Fermanagh's Ruairi Corrigan. Photo: Sportsfile

Bringing them back down to earth for the final can wait a few days.

"You have to embrace life and you have to embrace football and there's no joy if you don't enjoy winning," a beaming Gallagher said.

"There's boys there like Eoin Donnelly who celebrated his 30th birthday, I played with Barry Mulrone, Ryan Jones was on the panel when I last played, Sean (Quigley) is in the panel a long time and the two McCuskers (Declan and Paul). It's great for them."

Gallagher, who came into the job following Pete McGrath's ousting last summer, described the "privileged position" to lead his native county back to a provincial final and it may be against Donegal (who play Down on Sunday), a side he knows only too well.

Fermanagh's James McMahon celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile
Fermanagh's James McMahon celebrates. Photo: Sportsfile

With just 17 points conceded in their two Ulster triumphs, they will be a tough nut to crack and Gallagher took umbrage with criticism of their tactics.

"We set out to try to be on top of them. We set out to try and limit what they're good at. We get labeled 'defensive', but 50pc of football is with the ball and 50pc is without it," he said.

"I saw enough of Monaghan on TV to realise where we had to improve. People seem to think all we do is run, which is absolutely crazy. They have become a smarter team."

Regularly conceding the Monaghan kick-out, their ravenous tackling in the middle third forced uncharacteristic mistakes and the same complacency which saw the Farney men fall to Down at this stage 12 months ago was in evidence again as they stumbled to their third straight semi-final defeat.

It was a "devastating" loss for O'Rourke, but a lack of urgency, with few probing runs - Karl O'Connell aside - and poor shot choices cost them dear. He acknowledged the difficult task he faces to lift spirits ahead of the qualifiers as they look to make the Super 8s through the back door.

"When you're off your game gaps aren't as quick to appear, so we found it hard to get space up there for a lot of the game.

"Towards the end we did and that makes it even more sickening to lose it at the end like that," O'Rourke said.

"It's going to be hard to lift them, there's no doubt. We hoped that we had shielded the boys from all the talk that was going around, but for whatever reason we just didn't get the performance we needed."

The fact that victory was achieved without Seamus Quigley - left on the bench after a breach of discipline - makes it all the more noteworthy, but Gallagher insists he will be back in contention for the decider.

"We love Seamie. He has been brilliant for us all year. There was a little incident, you know, last week and we had to put the team first.

"I thought the best thing to do was for him to sit this one out. He is a great lad and he will be raring to go for the final," Gallagher said.


For Breen, the outpouring of emotion at the end as a Fermanagh pitch invasion engulfed their heroes was "something I've never experienced", but he insists getting to the final is not their sole ambition.

"There is no point in just showing up in the final. It is not just a case that we are happy to be there," Breen said .

"Rory Gallagher is the best manager in Ulster. He knows what he is at. He tells me what my job is and I do it."

SCORERS - Fermanagh: E Donnelly, 1-0, S Quigley 0-3f, T Corrigan (2f) and A Breen 0-2 each, C Jones 0-1. Monaghan: C McManus 0-5f, D Wylie 0-2, F Kelly, R McAnespie and C Walshe 0-1 each

FERMANAGH - P Cadden 7; K Connor 7, C Cullen 8, M Jones 6; B Mulrone 7, J McMahon 7, L Cullen 7; E Donnelly 7, R Jones 8; P McCusker 6, D McCusker 8, A Breen 7; Sean Quigley 7, C Jones 7, C Corrigan 6 Subs: D Teague 6 for M Jones (44), R Corrigan 6 for P McCusker (51), T Corrigan 7 for Quigley (56), T Clarke 6 for C Corrigan (60), R Lyons 6 for C Jones (62), C McManus for Breen (65)

MONAGHAN - R Beggan 6; K Duffy 6, D Wylie 8, R Wylie 6; D Mone 6, V Corey 6, F Kelly 6; K O'Connell 8, N Kearns 7; K Hughes 6, D Hughes 6, D Ward 5; R McAnespie 8, J McCarron 5, C McManus 6 Subs: D Malone 7 for Ward and C McCarthy 6 for McCarron (both 41), C Walshe 7 for Kelly (52), O Duffy 6 for K Hughes (55), C Boyle 6 for Mone (65), S Carey for Corey (black card 73)

REF - C Lane (Cork)

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