By Niall Gartland
Conor McGurk Cup Section C Round 3
Down v Fermanagh
Saturday, The Dub, 1.30pm
THE pre-season competitions have their fair share of detractors – the McKenna Cup’s sense of self-worth would be crushed at this stage if it weren’t an inanimate object – but Fermanagh selector Rory O’Donnell says they’ve loving the chance to play in the Conor McGurk tournament.
They were overwhelmed by Ulster University at the weekend, losing by 5-31 to 2-13, and lets face it, their round two opponents Down are expected to dole out a similar beating, but that doesn’t mean that Fermanagh are reluctant to participate in the competition.
O’Donnell, who managed the Fermanagh hurlers between 2009 and 2011 before returning to the fold this season, says that playing the better teams will hopefully stand to them later in the year.
“We were happy enough with how we performed against Ulster University, we’ve only been back a fortnight so we’re just getting to see what the players are like.
“The University had players from the likes of Antrim and Down, they even had one lad from Kilkenny, but it’s important to lower-tier teams to get involved in competitions like this.
“It was tough on them but they’ve been training for a lot longer than us and it’s good for the lads to have games to look forward to in December. We’ll try out a few different players against Down and hopefully they’ll put in a good performance. They’re two or three grades above us but I think it’s brilliant to get the chance to test ourselves.”
The Erne County have placed their trust in an outside man this season for the first time in their history as Waterford native Joe Baldin takes the reigns. He’s not a total outsider, however – his club is Kilkeel, and he has extensive experience of managing hurling and camogie teams in the north. O’Donnell hopes having someone with no pre-conceptions will be a good thing given nearly every player is from Lisbellaw.
“He’s a different voice and is bringing a lot of experience with him. He has a big knowledge of the game and is way of coaching is a bit different. None of the guys know him and he knows none of then. I’ve been around Fermanagh hurling for a long time and he’s the first manager who isn’t from the county.”
Their opponents Down are already assured of a top-two place in the group following their first-round victory over Kildare in Newbridge. Oisin McManus was the man with 10 points, four from play, while Conor Woods’ eye was also in from the dead ball. They should beat Fermanagh, but O’Donnell is hopeful that the Erne County will improve with clubs like Erne Gaels, Enniskillen Gaels and Belnaleck doing sterling work at underage level.
“We’ve a few underage teams coming through now and hopefully they’ll continue when they get to minor level. Sometime it fades away and that’d be a shame given the effort they’re putting in.”