Sunday 18 February 2018

Lethal Corrigan puts Westmeath to the sword

Fermanagh 1-13 Westmeath 0-7

Ryan Jones, Fermanagh, in action against Francis Boyle
Ryan Jones, Fermanagh, in action against Francis Boyle

Francis Mooney

Fermanagh blew Westmeath away with almost embarrassing ease in the second half at Kingspan Breffni Park to walk tall into the last eight of the All-Ireland series.

The swagger they brought to a dominant closing half-hour cast a staggering contrast to an early malfunction which appeared destined to end their championship adventure. But Pete McGrath has restored that magical touch to Erne football, evoking memories of the unforgettable season of 2004, the last time they reached an All-Ireland quarter-final.

On that occasion, they came within a kick of a ball of making it all the way to the September decider, losing only after a semi-final replay to Mayo.

A massive bonus for the Ulster men was the emergence of Tomas Corrigan as a genuine marksman. On a day when it just didn't happen for Sean Quigley, the Kinawley man stepped up the mark with a glorious 1-7 haul.

However, many issues remain to be resolved ahead of the massive challenge they face at Croke Park next month. Finishing is the primary concern, and while an over-reliance on an off-form Quigley was off-set by a sensational display by Corrigan, a worrying tally of 16 wides points up a pressing problem.

After a promising opening, Westmeath's challenge withered and died. Manager Tom Cribbin, predictably, abandoned the defensive strategy which had failed to halt the Dubs in the Leinster final, and Shane Dempsey and John Connellan sent over early points.

Fermanagh were level by the ninth minute when Declan McCusker landed a long-range score, but they were unable to exploit gaps in the Westrmeath cover, poor shot selection contributing to a tally of ten first-half wides.

Marty O'Brien and Ryan McCluskey represented Fermanagh's best chances of breaking down the Westmeath cover, both pushing forward from deep to put their opponents on the back foot. But neither would finish the half, both picking up black cards.

In the meantime, Fermanagh's wastefulness was contrasted by the accuracy of Connellan, who fired over two glorious scores from play to bring his tally to four.

Westmeath had every reason to feel pleased with a solid half-hour's work which had landed them with a 0-5 to 0-2 advantage. But Corrigan took matters into his own hands in the final minutes of the half, hitting three points, two from play, to level it at 0-5 each at the break.

Corrigan nudged his side in front for the first time from a free, and now it was Westmeath who stalled in front of goal, dropping three efforts harmlessly into the arms of keeper Thomas Treacy.

And at the other end, Quigley finally rediscovered his touch with a long-range score, having already been relieved of the place-kicking duties.

Despite the loss of Eoin Donnelly, Fermanagh continued to win plenty of ball around midfield, with Ryan Jones dropping deeper, and they opened out a two-point lead through corner-back Niall Cassidy.

Growing in confidence against a tiring Westmeath side, Fermanagh's ability to hold possession and wait for the opening to appear was giving them a decided edge as the game wore on.

James McMahon, Barry Mulrone and Declan McCusker were all comfortable on the ball, providing width and picking their passes as they stretched the Leinster side's cover.

The three players who had scored Westmeath's six points had been substituted by the 57th minute, and they were visibly lacking in ideas, penetration and finishing power, with Kieran Martin struggling to make any headway with his trademark power surges.

They failed to score for 28 minutes until Ray Connellan converted a free, while Corrigan capped a virtuoso display with a delightful goal, chipping substitute goalkeeper Gary Connaughton for a cheeky finish

Scorers - Fermanagh: T Corrigan 1-7 (0-5f), S Quigley (1f), D McCusker 0-2 each, N Cassidy, D Kelly 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Connellan 0-4 (2f), D Glennon, S Dempsey, R Connellan (f) 0-1 each.

Fermanagh: T Treacy, M Jones, T Daly, N Cassidy, M O'Brien, R McCluskey, J McMahon, E Donnelly, R O'Callaghan, B Mulrone, R Jones, D McCusker, P McCusker, S Quigley, T Corrigan.

Subs: D Kelly for O'Brien (17, BC), R Corrigan for McCluskey (28, BC), C Jones for Donnelly (43), C Cullen for Cassidy (69)

Westmeath: D Quinn, K Maguire, K Gavin, F Boyle, K Daly, P Holloway, J Dolan, D Corroon, P Sharry, J Gilligan, R Connellan, K Martin, J Connellan, D Glennon, S Dempsey. Subs: G Egan for Connellan (h-t), D Lynch for Maguire (40), D Daly for Dempsey (40), G Connaughton for Quinn (55), L Smith for Glennon (57), P Greville for Holloway (57)

Referee: P Hughes (Armagh).

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