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‘Players have improved and progress has been made’

Published: 1 Jun 2014 10:000 comments

Fermanagh’s most recent meeting with Antrim minors was an Ulster League game in March that the Saffrons were to win more comfortably than the 3-10 to 0-09 scoreline tends to suggest but Maguiresbridge man Niall Jackman believes in taking the positives out of the game and admits that Fermanagh may have learned more than Antrim on the day.

Fermanagh minor manager Niall Jackman hopes the improvements made by the players will be enough to see them make an Ulster semi-final.<<

“Antrim are a good side and will be favourites come Sunday but I firmly believe we are the better side and have become stronger since that game with Conor McAuley, Cian McManus and Garvan Jones now back in the side, while also that day we were to lose Shane Mimna and Rory McCaffrey early in the first half with injuries.”

The last time the two sides met in an Ulster Championship game was back at a rain soaked Enniskillen in 2006 when Antrim got the better of a Fermanagh side that contained players such as Eoin Donnelly, Daryl Keenan and Seamus Quigley.

This is Jackman’s first year in charge of the minor team and it’s obvious that he has put his stamp of playing style on the side.

Jackman reflects on his first year in charge of Fermanagh: “It’s been a really enjoyable experience, the players have been a pleasure to work with and I definitely feel progress has been made. At the start of the year I wanted to improve every player and I really feel I have done that, regardless of results I certainly feel the players have improved and that can only be good for the long term future of Fermanagh football.”

The Antrim side will certainly come with plenty of experience with seven of this year’s side seeing action in last year’s Ulster Minor championship defeat to Monaghan, Jackman explains though that its only his side that he is worried about.

“I certainly know of the likes of the Eastwoods, McParlands and Smalls of this world but I am only focusing on our own players, how we are going to defend Antrim goal threats and more importantly how we are going to work our own scores. Defenders like Shane Mimna and Cian McManus are quality players at the back for us, while we have JJ OBrien and Matthew McGrade who can really hurt the Antrim defence.”

The Fermanagh side this year is captained by Erne Gaels player Shane Mimna and the Fermanagh manager rates him incredibly highly.

“As I have been out of the County for a number of years I didn’t know too many of the players but thankfully Shane has stepped in as our chosen captain and he has been fantastic, I can’t really rate him highly enough to be fair. It’s his third year as a County minor and everyone looks up to him, he is the leader of the team and has been an excellent full back for us all season.”

The Fermanagh side have played challenge games since their Ulster Minor League campaign finished with a defeat to Cavan in the Shield semi-final, where the Erne side have met teams such as Sligo and Roscommon, while for Jackman he will be hoping for a clean bill of health for Sunday’s encounter.

“We haven’t played one game this year with a full squad of players which has been really frustrating. Cian McManus is back and still hasn’t played in a competitive game for us yet, Conor McAuley has struggled with injuries throughout the league campaign, Garvan Jones is only back two weeks and has been superb for us, Gareth Fox is rated as 50/50 at best for Sunday’s game due to a mild fracture and Shane Rooney (dislocated finger) and Enda Tierney (groin injury) will all be touch and go to be honest.”

Jackman concluded by saying, “Like every Fermanagh team, were heading in with nothing to lose. We are confident that we have a strong side ourselves who are capable of delivering a winning performance, and hopefully that will be enough to get us into an Ulster semi-final.”

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