There has never been a more important league campaign for Fermanagh. Honestly, that is not an exaggeration. For several reasons the next seven competitive games that Fermanagh play could shape the county’s destiny for a long number of years. Yet, despite this it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where we are at the moment.

The McKenna Cup was fragmented with one game before Christmas and two after. A draw in that pre-turkey affair with University of Ulster was followed by two defeats at the hands of Derry and Tyrone. The latter result was encouraging in terms of structure and defensive intensity but none of the three outings got the pulses racing in an attacking sense. More on that later.

For now, let’s look at why this campaign is so important. Coming down the line is a two-tiered championship. The GAA top brass and the GPA want it so it will happen. That’s the way things work and I think it will be in place for 2020. Central Council were due to meet this month with a view to bringing a motion to congress in February. I believe a tiered championship will feature a situation where counties in division three and four will not be permitted to enter the race for Sam if they are knocked out of their provincial championships.

If Fermanagh are relegated this season, I think it is very likely that you will see the county compete in a ‘B’ Championship in 2020. The long-term effect of this on counties such as Fermanagh, who spend time between division two and three will be very negative and serve only to create a gap between the top 12 and the next 12 that at present is not there. Currently that gap is only prevalent between the top five or six counties and the next 16 to 20.

This argument may seem like dancing on the head of the pin but when the GAA should be about the promotion of games and encouraging participation such a change will, I believe, cause untold damage in counties like ours.

Remaining in division two will keep us in the top tier and the longer we can stay there the healthier our future looks. It is going to be a difficult task. I think we will need at least six points to secure division two safety which means winning three games out of seven and given we have just three games at home the fixture gods have already been casting their smile elsewhere.

It means the opening game against Cork at Brewster Park this week has already taken on the shape of a must win scenario. Looking down the line it is difficult to see points being picked up on the road to Donegal while a trip to Armagh will no doubt bring about a tough tight encounter, the Orchard men are much improved and returning home with two points in tow will be an exceptionally difficult task. Fermanagh host Kildare at home in round three and if the Lilywhites are firing on all cylinders it is a game where we will be rank outsiders.

None of this is meant to unduly pessimistic. It is rather the facts, given the evidence over the last number of years. Staying in division two will be a brilliant achievement. So, how do we go about doing it. Well, the thinnest of tightropes need to be walked. On one hand defensively, we have to be as difficult to break down as ever. The cries of derision from the pundits nationwide about our style are but background noise now such is their frequency and predictability. The simple fact is this. Fermanagh defend in numbers like lots of other teams, the difference has been that we have consistently struggled to bring fluency and incisiveness to our attacking play.

This results in people highlighting our defensive strategy and it makes us the current poster boys for all that is ill with the game. The reality is if we were more efficient and clinical in attack a lot of these boorish quick minded criticisms would melt away. The trouble is that we are neither clinical or efficient.

Our forward play simply must improve if we are to stand any chance of survival but in many respects, Rory Gallagher has been dealt a rotten hand in that regard this season. Tomás Corrigan is travelling and while he did not receive as much game time as he would have liked last year the fact remains, in my opinion, he remains our most potent threat inside. He stretches defences and offers an outlet to win the ball inside that no other Fermanagh player has done consistently over recent years. He keeps opponents honest and plants the seed in their head that we at least have an option to send it long.

Too often the opposition know we will only run the ball and as a result can compress their whole defence and make that style of attacking even more difficult. Darragh McGurn has shown plenty of promise and having worked with him last year at Belnaleck he has a long and fruitful county career ahead of him. But he is only 19 and is effectively learning from scratch how to play in the full forward line. Conal Jones has proved productive in that inside line but I believe he needs a foil along side him. Someone to get out in front and draw the eye of defenders.

If I were Gallagher, I would put someone inside who I know will make those hard runs to win possession. Even if they are not a renowned scorer. Ciaran Corrigan is someone who could fulfil that role. Honest, hard working and intelligent he can win ball too. Maguiresebridge club mate Daniel Teague is another, but he needs to learn to veer clear of amber warnings.

Sean Quigley should be back for the Cork game this weekend. He has been injured and has been working hard. People sometimes have the wrong impression of Sean and quick to lift brush and tar and apply. The fact is he is serious about his football and he could yet prove the lightening rod to ignite our attack. But regardless of who we deploy as our ‘big man’ we need to bring something different to the table.

The Rebels will come to Brewster Park targeting the win. They were brutal in last year’s championship and when that happens, they normally get a reaction. Fermanagh are well capable of winning. If that happens then survival becomes a lot more achievable. Lose, and a long road lies ahead.