Fermanagh visit will indicate where we are at

Allianz NFL Division 3

Antrim v Fermanagh

Saturday – Corrigan Park 2.00pm

Antrim travelled to Tipperary last week and recorded their first win in this year’s Allianz League division 3 and after a couple of descent performances which ended in defeat, the Saffrons finally have some points on the board and their win at Semple Stadium was certainly deserved.

Defeat on the opening day of the present campaign to Offaly, despite a sterling second half comeback followed by another ‘glorious defeat’ at Pairc Esler against Down seemed to indicate that Andy McEntee’s side were well capable of competing in this division and Antrim delivered in style in Tipperary.

Just how good Tipperary are remains to be seen. To date they are pointless after three starts and travel to Longford at the weekend with both counties hoping to get their first points of the present campaign.

You can only play the team in front of you however and Antrim did that with a bit of style and panache in Semple Stadium and the performance graft seems to indicate they are on an upward curve. Fermanagh are likely to put that to the test on Saturday!

Super sub Sean Quigley snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for Fermanagh in a heart-stopping affair against Down in Ederney last Sunday to give Fermanagh their second win in three starts. Their only defeat came away to Offaly in Tullamore.

Quigley got on the end of a long lob from Garvan Jones and punched the ball from the grasp of Down goalkeeper Niall Kane in the 74th minute to grab what looked like an unlikely win minutes earlier.

Conor Francis looked to have secured victory for Down when he found the net after the ball came off the Erne crossbar with time almost up to leave Down leading by 3-10 to 1-14.

Despite that bit of late fortune, by all accounts the home side fully deserved victory and led the Mourne men by 0-10 to 0-4 at half time.

They were well worth their 0-10 to 0-04 lead but gave away a soft goal after the break when goalkeeper Sean McNally was dispossessed in no-man’s land, although he seemed to be fouled.

Down were awarded a penalty with Odhran Murdock converting the spot kick to reduce the Fermanagh’s lead to 0-11 to 1-05 and set the scene for a frenetic second half as both sides went for the jugular.

Down corner-back Pierce Laverty punched a goal as Down came back strongly but the excellent Ultan Kelm hit two superb points into the breeze and set up Conor McGee for a goal to put the home side ahead by 2-08 to 0-13 in the 58th minute.

Quigley’s goal snatched victory for Fermanagh but by all accounts they were worthy of it and will travel to Corrigan confident of overturning a defeat to Antrim at Brewster Park last season but Antrim will be determined not to let that happen.

After a couple of weekends on the road the Saffrons are back on the familiar turf of Corrigan and a win here would put them level with Fermanagh on four points and still in the promotion race while defeat would again leave them looking over their shoulder at relegation.

The possibility of defeat certainly won’t be on Andy McEntee’s mind as he prepares his side for the second all-Ulster clash of the present campaign and that narrow defeat to Down would indicate their might not be too much between the respective sides.

As I said earlier, Antrim have been on an upward trajectory since the start of the year and that win in Tipperary will give them confidence going into Saturday’s game against Fermanagh.

It’s taken the former Meath manager a bit of time to sort out a squad but his starting sides have had a more settled look about them since the start of the league and if everyone is fit then there might not be too many changes to the one that did the business last day out.

Mick Byrne seems to have made the number 1 jersey his own and Peter Healey and James McAuley have been consistent in a full-back line where Ronan Boyle came in for his first start last day out.

Joe Finnegan has come into the side this year and performed strongly at centre half while Marc Jordan has been outstanding and his strong runs from defence and contribution on the scoreboard have been important for Antrim.

Kevin Small has been hampered by injury but, if fit is likely to again partner Conor Stewart who has produced consistent performances at mid-field while Ryan Murray limped out of the Tipperary game after making a strong contribution in the opening half and his replacement, Odhran Eastwood weighed in with three second half points.

The two Ruairi McCann’s have proved to be something of a commentator’s nightmare and hopefully the man from Aghagallon and his counterpart from Creggan will prove to be just as much a problem for the Erne county defence on Saturday.

They say momentum is everything in football and Antrim will go into this one with a bit of momentum having hit an impressive 1-19 in Tipp. The Fermanagh defence are unlikely to afford them the amount of space that they had at Semple Stadium but this is a game that the Saffrons can win.

ANTRIM team v  Tipperary: M Byrne; P Healy (capt), R Boyle, J McAuley; O Lenehan, J Finnegan, M Jordan; K Small, C Stewart; C McLarnon, P Finnegan, R McCann (Creggan Kickhams); P Shivers, R McCann (St Mary’s Aghagallon), R Murray.Subs: O Eastwood for Murray (30 inj), D McEnhill for McLarnon (52), J Dowling f

Small (61), C Duffin for Shivers (63), S McGarry for McCann (Aghagallon) (70).

Fermanagh team v Down: Sean McNally; Luke Flanagan, Lee Cullen, Cian McManus; Ronan McCaffrey (0-01), Jonathan Cassidy, Shane McGullion (0-01); Ryan Jones (0-01), Brandon Horan; Josh Largo Ellis, Ryan Lyons (0-02f), Ultan Kelm (0-02); Conor McShea (0-01), Darragh McGurn (0-05,1f) Aidan Breen (0-01).

Subs: Conor McGee for Breen (45), Ciaran Corrigan for McShea (57), Sean Quigley for Horan (60), Garvan Jones for Lyons (60).

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