The Ulster final defeat to Donegal was a bitter one to take for Fermanagh defender James McMahon. The Erne side went into the game aiming to become the first from the county to lift the Anglo Celt Cup but on the day they had no answer as Donegal cruised to the title.

The sides are set to meet again this Sunday in Brewster Park as Declan Bonner’s side begin the defence of their crown and Fermanagh will be looking to ensure that this one is a much more competitive affair.

Roslea’s McMahon still has clear memories of the aftermath of that provincial final loss last summer.

“It was a massive anti-climax from the highs of that week to just being devastated.

“I was in bed at 11 o’clock, I just couldn’t take it any more. People meant well, they were patting you on the back but to come down to that massive low following the highs building up to it is seriously tough to take and it was the same the couple of days after it,” he stated.

And he admit that hangover was still there when they went out to face Kildare in the Qualifiers two weeks later.

“We went back to training that week and we talked about not letting ourselves down and wanting to get to the Super 8s because we felt that would be a serious platform for us to build on in future years. But in hindsight when you look at the Kildare game it just looks as if the Donegal defeat was too big a blow to try and recover from, especially in that short space of time. You can talk as much as you want about being in the right place and wanting to go and beat Kildare and do ourselves justice, but it is very hard to lift yourself.”

However, as summer disappeared and winter rolled in there was a determination among the Fermanagh players to push on from the year before and try and build on their run to the Ulster final. Previous Fermanagh teams tended to have one good year followed by a disappointing year but the goal for this squad was to keep moving forward and improving in 2019.

“I think it was well documented at the end of last year, in November, December time, the importance for this group to continue in an upward trajectory. A few inside and outside the county probably looked at the McKenna Cup and said it is the same old Fermanagh, they are going to slip down the ladder but we knew that the McKenna Cup was not an accurate reflection of where we were at,” said McMahon.

And a good league campaign has certainly helped maintain the momentum that they built over the past year or more with the pre-league favourites for the drop from Division Two going on to be right in the promotion shake up.

“First and foremost, like any team that gets promoted the first objective is to maintain your status. We never really talked about where we wanted to end up at the end of the league it was very much game by game but definitely staying up was the first priority and try and do that as early as we could and then see where it took us then,” he said.

Safety was achieved with relative ease but the Roslea man says that there was disappointment that they did not go on and grab promotion when they were in the position to with two games to go.

“There was a bit if a buzz definitely at the halfway point of the league but we would be very disappointed with the way we finished. The last two games probably ended on a sour note.

“There is not too many who would have predicted promotion for us or for us even to be in the conversation for promotion but with two games to go it was very much in our hands and the fact that we didn’t perform in those last two games, the two most important game to date at that time, is a bit disappointing. I suppose the upside to that is that maybe there was things showing up in those games that we can correct before championship as opposed to getting through them okay and papering over cracks,” he added.

Fermanagh put that disappointment behind them as the focus switched to the championship and McMahon states that thing have gone well since the league ended.

“Preparations have been grand. I suppose it is the same for every county there is a bit of disruption at the end of the league with boys going back to their clubs and it takes a while for things to get going again so you are not together as much as you were during the league but we have got back together since playing the club games and everybody is in good spirits.”

Indeed, he has saw plenty of game time with Roslea over the opening rounds as they made a positive start to their season.

“Roslea got off to a decent start and it was refreshing to get back playing with the club fellas. For boys in around the fringes of the squad it was an opportunity for them to get some game time and it keeps everybody refreshed. You just be hoping that you don’t pick up any injuries but thankfully that’s been okay,” he said.

Donegal now loom large on the horizon but James doesn’t feel that they will look back too much to that loss in the Ulster final when gearing up for the challenge.

“There is probably not a whole pile of benefit of looking back, it has been and gone. We felt we didn’t do ourselves justice, that happened for several reasons but it was a matter of taking the positives from the league performances and trying to improve on them, we believe that would serve us better.”

And he is also hoping that with the game on home soil that too will work to Fermanagh’s advantage.

“Any time you go into an Ulster Championship draw the first thing you look for is a home draw, after that you can’t really ask for much more.

“It is a tough one, especially playing the reigning Ulster champions, nevermind the fact that it was us they beat in the final, but to have it in Enniskillen is a boost,” he said.