Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath is expecting players to throw down a marker in the McKenna Cup which gets underway on Sunday in Clones against Monaghan, with places up for grabs for the league opener against Down in Newry.
From the side that lost to Mayo in the All Ireland Qualifiers, Fermanagh have lost Damian Kelly and Marty O’Brien to retirement, Ruairi Corrigan has been ruled out with injury while Richie O’Callaghan has gone travelling so there are places that will have to be filled and the McKenna Cup is the ideal time for players to catch the eye and put themselves in consideration.
The McKenna Cup has served Fermanagh well in recent years and while McGrath will be looking to win games, finding out about his players in a competitive environment will be more important as he keeps one eye on the league opener against his native county.
“We have three matches that we are guaranteed in the McKenna Cup and I honestly feel we have things that we have to learn.
“If you look at the team that played against Mayo in our last game last year, there are a number of players who aren’t available to us so these are positions that have to be filled and the McKenna Cup leading into the National League will give us indicators of who is most likely to fill those positions in the months ahead, particularly come National League time,” he commented.
McGrath has Lee Cullen back after missing last year while Tiernan Daly and Ryan McCluskey return following an injury plagued 2016. The Fermanagh manager will also be hoping that the likes of James Duffy, Danny Teague, Paddy Reihill, Paddy McGovern, Tom Clarke, Ryan Hyde, Eddie Courtney and Cathal Beacom can make an impression in the McKenna Cup and put their name in the hat for a starting place in Newry.
“Players are in a position where they have to be given opportunities and they have to make big statements. I have no doubt that we have players in the squad who can come in and fill those places. This squad now has been generally together for this last number of years so you would like to think that they are well bedded in together and they can absorb a couple of losses with regards the players who won’t be there but at the same token I think the people who will come in are good enough to ensure that nothing is weakened and in fact maybe things will be strengthened,” he added.
The Down man is pleased with how things have gone so far at this early stage of the campaign and feels the players are moving in the right direction.
“The squad has put in a number of weeks good training and I think we have worked them smartly in the sense that you can’t push them on too hard, too quickly because you run the risk of injuries but I feel for this time of year they are in pretty good shape. The McKenna Cup is the official start of the season and I would like to think that the McKenna Cup has served us well this last couple of years and if we get the same kind of benefits from it in 2017 that we got over this last two years then we will be happy enough with that,” he explained.
Fermanagh begin with a meeting against Malachy O’Rourke’s Monaghan, with the sides also set to clash in the opening round of the championship, and this will be followed by games against St. Mary’s and Antrim.
“Monaghan are a Division One team and I’m sure they will be experimenting to an extent but I’m also sure they will be determined to send out a message and we have got to be wary of that and ready for that. The three matches are going to be three individual challenges and at the end of the McKenna Cup campaign if we are able to sit down and say we have got a clear picture of what these guys can do and if all the results and information we get back from those games is all positive then that’s what you want to get out of it. I’ll be happy coming out of it if we are heading into that first match in the league in a healthy position with everyone fit and us knowing what everyone can do,” he said.