Ultan Kelm looks to light up Croke Park as Cavan and Fermanagh clash in a Division 3 final with plenty on the line
LEAGUE finals have tended to be harmless, no-strings-attached affairs, free of angst or jeopardy. You win, you get a cup and for what it’s worth, the title of divisional champions.
“But,” says Fermanagh selector Fergal Quinn, “we see it as an opportunity to win silverware. This is a young group of players coming through. And you want to develop a winning culture.
“I think getting hands on silverware next weekend would be massive in their development.
“Every player plays football to win trophies. And there’s a trophy on the line next week. I think that’s massive. Fermanagh is going down to Croke Park to win a league title.
“That’s the way we’re approaching it. We’re looking forward to it. We see it as a massive opportunity,” Quinn reckons.
Last Sunday, Fermanagh went to Breffni Park and won.
It’s not something they do with any great regularity – and having conceded a goal after just 38 seconds – and facing the prospect of missing promotion in the event of a loss had Offaly beaten Down in Tullamore – they did it off their own bat.
“That was massive,” Quinn argues. “We didn’t look at the Down result the whole way through the game. We never mentioned Down. That’s true.
“Somebody in the background may have taken a look. But I didn’t want to know. Our priority was, we wanted to do it ourselves.
“We didn’t want to rely on anyone else. So we just went gung-ho for it. Thankfully, we didn’t need to rely on Down. It’s important for the development of the team. It’s a young team, a young squad,” Quinn said.
The most exciting of which is 22-year-old Ultan Kelm.
Toiling away in the lower reaches of league football, Kelm hasn’t attracted much by way of national acclaim – but he has, undoubtedly, been one of the best players in Ireland this spring.
His explosive speed will be something to keep an eye on in Croke Park this evening.
At an AFL combine in 2019, Kelm recorded a 2.87 second, 20-metre sprint time – the joint-fastest across all combines between 2014 and 2019 – and was promptly signed by Fremantle Dockers in October of 2021.
Within six weeks, the club cancelled the deal after the recurrence of a hip injury.
Such is his form in a new role as an inside forward, the spectre of Fremantle coming back for him is, Quinn admits, “always on the table”.
“Moving him into the forward line…Fermanagh have a lot of good defenders,” he explained. “And for years we maybe lacked a bit with free-scoring forwards.
“I suppose Ultan has a lot of pace, and pace is hard to handle.
“So I suppose playing up in the forward line, he has a bit more freedom.
“Put him back in the half-back line and sometimes he’s stuck marking somebody.”
His addition adds a dimension to a Fermanagh attack that has already ticked one of its primary boxes for the year.
Promotion was the initial aim. They have champions, Derry, in Ulster – but whatever happens after that, they will take it as it comes.
As Quinn acknowledged, Fermanagh aren’t in any position to turn their noses up at the Tailteann Cup.
“We have quite a young squad,” he pointed out. “So for the development of this squad, the Tailteann is a realistic opportunity.
“It’s a competition that they can set their sights on, and try and win.”