When Malachy O’Rourke took charge of the Fermanagh team in 2008, I recall my weight shooting up from thirteen stone to about fourteen and a half stone. 
Unfortunately this was not down to gorging on my favourite foods or spending too much time in front of the TV; it was instead down to a vigorous step up in our training regime.
Malachy brought a renewed sense of purpose to the team and a high level of intensity. 
Instead of training two or three times a week, we were training five to six times including weight sessions and individual diet plans for each player. 
The intensity continued throughout the year and a few wins in the McKenna Cup provided us with confidence heading into the League that propelled us into the Championship and right through to the Ulster Final.
It is evident, certainly from the physical shape of some of the players, that Rory Gallagher has taken a similar stance and introduced a very rigorous training regime. Coming from Jim McGuinness’s management team, it is probably no surprise that he has pushed the limits in training over the winter months.
Eoin Donnelly recently pointed out: “The players are being facilitated in every way and we have to step up to the mark.” Having all the mod cons – GPS, body fat checks, dieticians only puts us on a level playing field with every other county. What it all comes down to is talent and willingness of the players to achieve.
A new year, coupled with new management, brings fresh hope and optimism for the season ahead. It is clear from recent games that the management team are deeply involved in every aspect. They are extremely vocal on the line, constantly barking out orders to the players. A GPS on Ryan McMenamin would be an interesting read after a game such is the amount ground he covers up and down the line! I’m a great fan of Davy Fitzgerald and I love to see a management team showing passion on the line.
The confidence gained from three consecutive wins in the McKenna Cup has enhanced the belief that a successful League campaign is beckoning. Most teams use the games in the McKenna Cup as little more than competitive challenge games with a chance to test out players. Fermanagh were no different in this regard. They tried out new players and worked on a system of play that Gallagher and co are looking to implement. Winning, no matter the game or competition always creates a positive atmosphere around the panel, it is justification for all the hard work and momentum cannot be underestimated.
The atrocious conditions in the McKenna Cup didn’t lend itself to free flowing football but from early viewing, Gallagher is looking to instil an aggressive and physical style of play. In their faces sort of stuff with a lot of stopping the opponent and slowing their play by any means. Keeping possession is key with the constant call from the side-line being “keep ball”. Their defensive style with numbers back and breaking together requires serious fitness and support play along with accurate passing and execution. An area that Gallagher has already pointed out needs improvement.
Promotion to Division Two is certainly a realistic target for this team. With four games at home including crunch ties with Derry and Armagh, the draw has given Fermanagh a great opportunity. The visit of Armagh on March 18 will likely be the defining game for both teams and will set the tone for their Championship encounter on May 19. Tough battles will be expected away to Sligo, Westmeath and Longford but should be winnable. It will take ten to twelve points to gain promotion and it is likely to come down to the three Ulster teams in the division to battle it out.
Facing Wexford this Sunday will be a step up from the McKenna Cup games but it is a match that Fermanagh should be able to win comfortably. Defensively, Fermanagh are strong with Che Cullen continuing to grow in his full back position. With James McMahon back in the panel, I would like to see him having a run of games at number six. Paul McCusker, whose energy was badly missed against Tyrone, should move back up to the half forward line.
Moving Lee Cullen to midfield might be the best foil for Eoin Donnelly and will allow Ryan Jones to switch to centre forward which might add some penetration to the forward line. Tomás Corrigan is one player who will add to the scoring threat and once fit, he will be vital to Fermanagh’s chances this year.
Certainly a very positive start has been made to the year so far. Let’s hope all the training and effort will be rewarded.