Ryan McMenamin’s first game as Fermanagh manager will see his side take on Down at Brewster Park on Sunday December 29 in the McKenna Cup.

The draw for the competition took place at the end of last week and making up the three team group will be Antrim, who Fermanagh are away to on January 5.

McMenamin feels that now the fixtures are known they are a short term target for the side although the bigger goal remains the opening game of the league on January 26.

“It means that the players now have something to focus on in the short term. They know the league and the championship fixtures but they are in the future so it is nice for the players to know that there is games around the corner and from a management point of view we can sort out whatever we have to do as well,” he explained.

And he expects two good work outs for his side in the group stages of the competition.

“Down will know what their about, Paddy (Tally) is in his second year and I think they will be very comfortable in their skins. Antrim have been out training very hard and are maybe a bit further on in that regard so it will be two very good tests for us,” he added.

The Dromore man is keen to have a look at some of his new recruits in action in the competition but also wants his side to be competitive in the games.

“Every game is important so while you want to use the McKenna Cup to look at players and try out players, you also want to be competitive.”

McMenamin is currently working with a squad of 39 players which includes a number of new faces and he has been pleased with how things have gone to date.

“At the minute we have a squad of 39 and within that we have one in Australia (James McMahon) and one in Budapest (Che Cullen).

“It’s going well, I can’t fault the enthusiasm of the players, they are working hard in training and over the next few weeks we will start ramping up the work to get the fitness levels up to where we would like to have them.”

And he states that a couple of the new players have caught his eye in the early weeks.

“Young Eoin Shiels has caught the eye and young Brandon Horan has as well, the two boys are training well, but you don’t like to point out a couple of boys when you have over 30 at training and everybody is training well,” he said.

He also thinks that it will be an important year for a number of other players in terms of continuing their progression.

“You have boys that were part of it last year and you would be hoping that they will keep pushing on. Johnny Cassidy and Ultan Kelm got a taste for it and you want them to keep building while you also have the likes of Darragh McGurn, Lorcan McStravick and Shane McGullion and hopefully it will be a big year for them,” he said.

McMenamin’s appointment as Rory Gallagher’s successor kept a continuity in the set up as he stepped up from assistant manager but he has also brought in fresh voices in the shape of Paul McIvor and Joe McMahon and McMenamin says that the players have been very receptive to what the two new members of the management team have brought to the table.

“The boys have taken well to Paul and Joe and the boys appreciate that they are two good football men, they have a good knowledge of the game and they enjoy the craic as well which is also good.

“There’s that bit of continuity too and you don’t want to throw away all the good work over the last two years defensively and we know what we have to add going forward. But the players are also hearing two new voices which keeps it fresh and for me it is also good because there are fresh eyes there and they maybe see something different.”

McMenamin was very hands on in training during his time as assistant manager and while McIvor and McMahon are heavily involved in the coaching, Ricey still likes to get in the thick of things on the training pitch.

“It’s very flexible. There are nights that I would take a step back and then nights where I would take it.

“We would have a chat coming up to the training and decide what we want to get out of it. We all have our own ideas so it is a fluid enough situation, there are some night’s Paul would take a step back and I would take it or Joe would take the coaching and myself and Paul would sit back and watch it. It is fluid and flexible and we all have an idea of what we are going to do each session and what we want to get out of it,” he said.

So, the new season is getting close and for McMenamin, the big focus is on that league opener against Kildare in Newbridge on Sunday January 26.

“With the Tier Two Championship it is all building towards the league. Division Two and Division Three are going to be so competitive given what is at stake and I think there will be huge interest in it. Our main focus is that first league game against Kildare,” he said.