Sunday 17 November 2019

McGrath predicts big things for defiant in defeat Ernesiders

Thomas Corrigan celebrates his goal for Fermanagh
Thomas Corrigan celebrates his goal for Fermanagh
David Kelly

David Kelly

As Fermanagh contemplated returning to second-half battle, they had two choices - fight or flight.

Some of their more gilded fellow Gaels - Kildare and Cork, most prominently of late - had meekly bowed their heads in submission of late.

The Erne men were determined not to allow their fleeting glimpse of the big stage conclude without the most defiant of yelps.

"We've had adversity before and we never once bent the knee, buckled or rolled over for anyone and we weren't going to roll over for Dublin today," declared manager Pete McGrath.

Their captain, Eoin Donnelly, was adamant there could be only one option. "We're not after playing all summer to lie down now," he had exhorted his troops. "We're not going to let all those supporters leave here with their heads down!"

And so Fermanagh, who were never going to be good enough to match the requirements for success in the contest, strived manfully to match their own expectations of success.


The often patronising line about winning the second-half was an apt description of Fermanagh's valour and courage in defeat, personified in Sean Quigley's wonderful defiance which earned him the distinction of steady baiting from the hitherto becalmed Hill.

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Instead of raising the white flag of surrender, it was all the marvellously characteristic Quigley could do not to plunge for the green flag himself after charging Stephen Cluxton over the goal line.

Indeed, he nearly did and, perhaps, it would not have been surprising had he decided to clamber over the fence and seek out the pocket of green-clad devotees corralled on the back of the Hill.

Fermanagh's "goal" - a travesty of justice regardless of the result - spurred on a third-quarter revival which owed as much to Dublin sloppiness as it did to the northerners' sense of fidelity to the game's values.

Quigley, who more than amply fills his formidable frame with more than just late night pizza, has a sublime scoring action as well as a sense of cheeky devilment that was as much of a throwback to more innocent times as the frontal charge on the goalkeeper.

It was if we had suddenly been transported into the 1950s.

"I didn't realise you could tackle the goalkeeper in Gaelic football," noted Dublin boss Jim Gavin with more than a little wryness in his voice.

Kerry whistler Padraig O'Sullivan had the proverbial shocker and the free count - 21 for Fermanagh, 4 for Dublin - drew an audible gasp from Gavin in the aftermath.

At least Fermanagh boss McGrath had the politeness to suggest that, in the first hour at least, Dublin's irrepressible foot-passing and movement made it impossible for his team to foul.

There was so much to admire about Dublin in the first-half, and their approach was epitomised by Jack McCaffrey's swift one-twos and sublime goal-scoring pass to Bernard Brogan

Dublin will occupy more rarefied air at t­he end of this month, though and it remains to be seen how poaching the country's minor prey will help them to snare the big game.

"The way the competition is drawn, we just have had to take each team on their own merits and give them the respect that they deserve," says Gavin, who confirmed Ciaran Kilkenny's half-time withdrawal was precautionary after the gifted forward tweaked his lower back.

"You would be disappointed with the end. The players won't need me to tell them that the last quarter won't be good enough against the likes of Mayo or Donegal and that certainly gives us areas to focus on and improve on over the coming weeks.

"We sat off them and gave them some space, gave them time on the ball and, in fairness to Fermanagh, I'm not plámásing them, when they got that space they took some very good scores.

"But we understand that no matter what team we will face in the semi-finals that performance in the last quarter of the game will not be good enough.

"Certainly we can take away a lot of positives from today, our shooting was excellent and to score just one free and all the rest from play was a very good return."

Veteran manager Pete McGrath was proud of a team who began the year in Division 3.

"The choice was stark at half-time, lay down and accept the thing or show people what we could do. And I think we showed character, courage, enthusiasm and skill and I'm really proud of them.

"This team can win an Ulster title next year, I'm convinced of that, it's not arrogance but total belief. We need to carry this on and we will have other days here.

"The reception we got at the final whistle is something that will live with me for a long time.

"This game shone a light on our spirit and that's sometimes more important than a scoreboard."

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