Sunday’s defeat to Down brought an end to a tough first year as Fermanagh Manager for Ryan McMenamin, but by Monday afternoon his thoughts had already switched to next season.

A disjointed season due to Covid-19 concluded with relegation to Division Three, and a first-round exit at the hands of the Mournemen in the Ulster Championship.

McMenamin was appointed on a three year term which was to be reviewed at the end of every year and while this year’s review has yet to take place, McMenamin is keen to get down to work.

“It is the end of a tough year. It was the most disjointed year that you could have had, but we can’t complain. On the day, we had 70 minutes to go and try to beat Down, and we didn’t do it.

“We had chances in the first half to maybe go two up, and we didn’t take it, and a two-point lead at any time in the game would have been a massive lead, as it was nip and tuck.

“Look, it has been the story of the year with Covid, injuries and not taking chances, but you just have to move on,” he said.

Down’s pace caused a lot of problems for Fermanagh on Sunday and McMenamin hinted that he will look to inject more pace into his squad for next season.

“It is something that we have tried to address and we will have to sit down and look at it, and maybe look to get the personnel in that we think can punish teams on the break,” he added.

It is accepted that Fermanagh are going through something of a rebuilding process, with four players – Sean McNally, Josh Largo Elis, Luke Flanagan and Stephen McGullion – making their championship debuts on Sunday, and a fifth, Sean Cassidy, coming in off the bench.

“They are the future of Fermanagh football, but they can’t afford to sit on their laurels, they have to keep going and keep on improving.

“They have to keep on believing that they can be top-quality,” said the Erne boss, who also expects to add a few more younger players to his squad for 2021, while he is hopeful of others returning to fitness having missed out through injury.

‘A natural process’

“It is a natural process to always look ahead. You have a fair idea of what way you want a team to look like in a year or a couple of years, and we have to think of the future of Fermanagh and have a few of these young lads in. These are lads that are going to be there long after me.

“We already have a lot of young players in the squad, and the likes of Brandon Horan has been unlucky with injuries, and was one that we were keen to get more football.

“You have Ultan Kelm with his injuries, Shane McGullion as another, and we also lost Eoin Shiels, who was a great option for us.

“There was always going to be a transition, and there will be younger fellas coming into the squad while there are fellas in the squad that can come back into it, and I wouldn’t rule them out.

“Sometimes, nothing goes right for a player for a year – you can’t get the form, or whatever – but then all of a sudden in the New Year, with a fresh approach, you regain that form,” he said.

On Sunday, Fermanagh had more than held their own in a cagey opening 35 minutes, and McMenamin says the plan was to keep it tight in the first half.

“In the first half we just wanted to keep it tight for as long as possible.

“We wanted to frustrate Down because we knew they had a lot of pace and power, and we knew they were planning to spring the bench in the second half. We didn’t want the game to be spread out and open.”

However, he felt that unforced errors cost the home side.

“You look at their first three scores – they were frees, and they were all giveaways, it was poor handling when the ball needed to be moved that bit quicker.

“They punished our unforced errors, but any time we turned over the ball we just didn’t punish them,” he said.

However, the Down goal early in the second half was the turning point.

“The goal was massive for them, and it was the one time that Caolan got away from Darragh. It was a big ask to ask Darragh what we did and he didn’t do bad, but when you are playing against top inter-county players, sometimes they might do nothing for 50 minutes of the match, and then they do something special like that.

“That is the level that Darragh and all the other young players have to aspire to get to,” explained McMenamin.

After that, the visitors dominated as they reeled off a string of points to put the game to bed, McMenamin believing that a lack of numbers at training for various reasons since they returned to action hit their preparations.

“The longer the game went on, there was only going to be one winner. With everything, we have only really had three weeks of solid training, and with the games in between you can’t really do much during the week.

“Last week was probably the first time we were able to get the squad together and train consistently on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday.

“We needed the whole 32 out since September 14, but in the first three weeks, the highest numbers we had was 11 players ,” he said.

He is reluctant though to use the Covid-19 issues that badly affected the squad as an excuse.

“You just don’t know what way Covid effects players, but we are not going to use it as an excuse, we will just have to brush ourselves down and move on.”

And with the new season not that far away, McMenamin says that the process has already started.

“Next year is only a few weeks away. I watched the game back today and now you move on.”