National League Division Two
Fermanagh v Westmeath
Sunday, TEG Cusack Park, 2pm
STEPHEN McGullion says it was the players themselves who spearheaded Fermanagh’s second-half revival against Roscommon – and he’s hopeful that they can repeat the trick in their next match against Westmeath.
Ryan McMenamin was an uncompromising figure on the field of play, but he’s no dictator off it. He divided his players into forwards and backs at half-time (something common in Dublin changing rooms under Jim Gavin) and they were allowed to figure out themselves where they’d been going wrong against the Rossies (they were down 0-10 to 0-3 at half-time).
Lo and behold they were a different animal entirely in the second-half and they grabbed their first points of the campaign in an uber-competitive Division Two this year.
McGullion, who’s in his first year back in county colours after a stint on the panel in 2016, said: “It was player-driven really. We knew we hadn’t performed as well as we could have.
“We split into forwards and backs and chatted about what went well and what didn’t go well, and how we could solve those problems.
“We knew ourselves we needed to lift the intensity and that we’d showed Roscommon too much respect in the first-half, allowing them to build too easily.
“They were getting a lot of short-kickouts away too easily and they pulled us all over the place when passing the ball around.
“In the second-half we pushed up on their kick-outs and tried to pen them in and it worked a lot better for us.”
McMenamin’s hands-off approach seems to be popular with his players, but McGullion says he isn’t afraid to lay down the law when the moment requires it as well.
“He’s very much a player’s manager. He gives us a lot of the control. Our opinions are valued in terms of what we personally think is going well and what we can improve on.
“He’s very approachable and will always tell you what you’re doing well and what you can improve on instead of just roaring the head off you. He can do that if it’s needed as well but every manager has to be able to show both sides.”
McGullion hasn’t been part of the Fermanagh panel in the last few years, but he hasn’t been sitting on his backside either.
An imposing speciman these days, he’s a key player on the Derrygonnelly team which has won five senior championship titles on-the-trot, and he says the main reason he didn’t make it back in 2016 as an intercounty player was his physical immaturity.
“I was in for the McKenna Cup in 2016 when Pete McGrath was in charge. Looking back it was a year or two too early for me. I wasn’t physically developed enough and I found the step up massive.”
This is Fermanagh’s second year back in Division Two, and although they’re known throughout the land as a hard team to beat, one imagines it’s still a bit different than gobbling up league and championship titles with Derrygonnelly.
McGullion commented: “We always go into every game thinking we can get a result. You always know it’s going to be a hell of a battle when you put on a Fermanagh jersey for the simple fact that it’s intercounty football.
“I wouldn’t say the psychology of it is different, but it’s very easy to get yourself up for a game of intercounty football as one bad performance could mean you’re out of the team.”
While Fermanagh – the lucky ducks – were given the Christmas week off to spend with their friends and families, it’s still been a busy period for McGullion whose club season to came an end with an agonising Ulster Championship semi-final defeat to Kilcoo. They kicked themselves out of it with a series of bad wides so it wasn’t easy watching on as the Magpies ended up in the All-Ireland final.
“It was touch watching them [Kilcoo] to be honest. It’s one of those what ifs – you’ll always wonder about what you could do differently. You just have to pick yourself up and life goes on.
“Personally I only got about two weeks off after the Ulster Championship, but the Ulster campaign probably stood to me in terms of fitness. We’ve done good work to be fair. We trained intensely before the McKenna Cup and then we used that competition to try things out. We feel we’re in good shape and want to give Division Two a good rattle.”