By Niall McCoy
Ulster U-20 Championship semi-final
Derry v Fermanagh
Friday, Healy Park, 8pm
SOMETHING is stirring in Fermanagh football and u-20 manager Ollie Fay is just happy to be assisting the revolution.
The Erne county recorded a 0-14 to 0-12 quarter-final win over Donegal last Friday in what was one of the county’s most notable results in recent years. A semi-final meeting with Derry at Healy Park tomorrow presents another chance to reinforce the belief that Fermanagh football is really on the up.
Coming hot on the heels of the seniors reaching last year’s Ulster final, St Michael’s annexing the MacRory and Hogan titles this year and Enniskillen Gaels claiming the Ulster Club Minor title of 2018, these are exciting times for the county.
“Fermanagh wouldn’t have great tradition at u-17s or u-20s in recent years,” said Fay.
“It’s 11 years since they won a first round game in the old U-21 Championship.
“Obviously nobody expected us to beat Donegal because Fermanagh wouldn’t be seen as a giant of Ulster football like the Donegals, Derrys and Tyrones.
“It was good that we went out there and showed the potential that exists in our group.”
“That sort of stuff energises everyone, even the seniors getting to the Ulster final last year.
“Obviously the MacRory and even Enniskillen Gaels having success in the Ulster Club, all of those things work towards players believing that they’re good enough and can compete with teams outside the county.
“That success has instilled a lot of belief and confidence because the players didn’t need much encouragement before their game with Donegal.
“They didn’t need much to get them going because they knew they had been in big games and had won serious competitions.”
Fay is a firm believer that many games are won and lost in the mind, and he feels that Fermanagh have some catching up to do in that department.
The mental side of things has been one of the key areas he has focused on since coming on board.
“I believe that in football everyone shares the physical attributes at the minute regarding fitness, strength and conditioning, etc,” said the Drumlane native.
“Sometimes mindset is the big thing. It’s the battle to get that right. We set out initially to change that, to help them realise that you can compete with any person if your mindset is right. Thank God it worked against Donegal.
“It’s not just myself or the u-20 management that has changed the mindset, it’s Dom Corrigan in St Michael’s, it’s the Enniskillen club, it’s the lads involved in the Fermanagh senior management.
“These players are coming back from all different places with lots of confidence and it’s an accumulation of all those factors.”
The win against Donegal did not come without expense as Ultan Kelm, Darragh McGurn and Lorcan McStravick all picked up varying degrees of injury.
“Lorcan is very, very doubtful and Ultan is touch and go,” Fay continued.
“Darragh was just cramping up towards the end so he should be good to go.
“Ultan and Lorcan are very experienced lads and will know when their bodies are telling them to sit out. They’ll see how they go this week and then we’ll make the call for the game.”
Derry’s participation in this match looked fanciful after 41 minutes of their quarter-final clash with Armagh.
A quickfire goal double from the Orchard county left Mickey Donnelly’s side trailing by 10 points, 2-10 to 0-6.
Incredibly they would out-score their opponents 5-6 to 0-3 from that point on with Lorcan McWilliams, Paul Cassidy, Paudie McGrogan, Ethan Doherty and Kealan Friel all finding the net.
Cassidy top-scored with 1-4 while Conleth McShane made a big difference when introduced from the bench.
Ben McCarron and Oisin McWilliams picked up injuries for the Oakleafers last Friday and are in a race against time to be fit for this semi-final clash.