By Niall Gartland
FERMANAGH will hope that home advantage will carry even more weight than usual as they get ready to face Down in Saturday’s Ulster u-17 Championship preliminary round.
The Fermanagh seniors host All-Ireland champions Tyrone later that afternoon, so that should attract a few more partisan supporters to the curtain-raiser at Brewster Park.
They’re under the stewardship of former intercounty player Raymond Johnston, who learnt his trade at managerial level during the Pete McGrath Erne County years between 2014 and 2017.
Speaking at the launch of the Ulster U-17 Championship at Garvaghey earlier this week, Johnston, who played for more than a decade with Fermanagh, hailed the influence of McGrath.
“I was assistant manager under Pete McGrath, it was a productive three or four years. I learnt a fair bit, he’s a very passionate man about Gaelic, a great role model.
He has the pedigree and won All-Irelands with Down, so I definitely got an insight into his mind, it was very good. Hopefully I can pass that knowledge onto the team and make sure we’re doing our best for Fermanagh football.”
The Erne County claimed a win in last year’s championship under Aiden Gilroy, claiming a victory over Cavan, but that particular result was overshadowed by what followed – a merciless thumping dished out by an exceptional Tyrone side in the semi-finals.
Johnston said: “That win over Cavan was the first win in a number of years.
“Unfortunately we came up against a strong Tyrone team in the next round. The performances prior to the Cavan game weren’t great so people said that win was a shock, but it wasn’t the case, they were always confident in their own ability and were able to show that against Cavan.”
Players to watch out for from Fermanagh are Cian O’Brien, an exceptional prospect, defender Oisin Swift, Conor O’Hanlon, and their captain Cathal McAnespie.
They had a mixed minor league campaign, showing improvements after a one-sided defeat to Donegal on their first day out. Whether they’ve improved enough to get the better of Down this Saturday is the million dollar question.
“It was good to get the boys up and running. We came in in September and we were working off a panel of maybe 75 or 80 boys initially. We were gearing towards the pre-season competition, getting the boys up and running and working on a system of play.
“We had mixed performances, we’d good spells and bad spells but we’re getting more consistency to our play and hopefully the boys have learnt from the wrongs of the league and will produce a good performance against Down.”