I had nipped to shop for a few essentials. Bread, milk and what have you. And after getting side tracked by a sharing bag of Walkers Prawn Cocktail I found myself in the queue. Ahead of me was a long time Gaels and Fermanagh fan.

‘Well, will Richie play,’ says he.

‘I hope so,’ says I.

‘Will we win,’ says he.

‘Do you know I think we will,’ says I.

I was unusually buoyant ahead of the game with Down. I felt we were flying under the radar a little bit. On the face of it Covid disruption, relegation and a particularly jarring collapse against Laois didn’t paint a necessarily rosy picture. In fact it was quite bleak to the majority of observers. But I searched for splashes of colour and found them.

For long periods we had played very well against Laois, and indeed Clare for that matter and we would be at our strongest against Down, who had been bereft of anything like a meaningful match since before a time of face masks and take away cocktails. Yes, settling down to watch the game I was feeling positively chipper.

By the end of the game the chipperness was gone and the realisation that we were comprehensively beaten had set in. From the moment Donal O’Hare flicked to the net the game was up. As the net rustled you could almost see the wind leave the Fermanagh sails. The margin was only three points but such was the nature of the game it felt like a chasm.

There are few more demoralising feelings in sport than knowing you have been soundly beaten and I would hope that all in the Fermanagh camp realise that. There is no sense in hanging on to what ifs. And mutterings of missed chances are fine as sound-bites for the press but they should not be entertained as plausible explanations for this defeat.

Down were better, end of story and we have lost seven games from eight this season. It was a tough year and for many of the players it was a steep learning curve.

So what now? Firstly let’s address the manager and management. They should stay. If only for the simple reason that the stop start nature of the season made it almost impossible to put any sort of stamp on the team. No-body can be judged on 2020, especially a management in their first year. That of course is not to say that lessons should not be learned. Indeed a management team that does not look for lessons, and for that matter weaknesses within itself are dangerously deluded.

I have no doubt that Ricey and co will be back and the first order of business should be to look at 2020 with a cold ruthlessness. Next on the agenda should be to look towards next year, again, exercising the same clinical approach. It should tell them a few obvious truths. The first is that we are in rebuilding mode.

This column isn’t going to say what players will move on from the current squad. In fact we would like to see them all commit again but the reality is that some of those who have given all for the cause for a good number of years will likely not be back, either through their own personal decision or simply because their level of play is not quite what it was. Such is the harshness of sport, especially at this level.

The second truth the management will come to is that regardless of who commits from this year, they may not have a full hand to play from. Players travelling and what not, along with the uncertainty of players returning from long term injury will rob them of the best possible Fermanagh 15. C'est la vie.

The third truth for management is that they will enter 2021 with a starting team that for all those factors mentioned above will be very young, and very inexperienced. That is no bad thing really, as long as all parties know the lay of the land.

And by parties we include the county board in that. The management needs a frank discussion with those who run Fermanagh GAA. 2021 will be a year full of growing pains and the smart money is that the fruits of those pains won’t begin to ripen until 2022. Because here is the thing. Ryan McMenamin may have been part of Rory Gallagher’s management team but the way his team plays is different to that of his predecessor. It will take more than a season to mould the team into what he wants, especially given the circumstances we have teased out.

So, there needs to be some realism. Fermanagh, as a county goes through this sort of rebuilding cyclically and while it is true to say that all teams do to some extent, few counties feel it with quite the jolt that we do due to our smaller playing pool.

Now, that is not to say we don’t have good enough players. We don’t have them in as big numbers as other counties, which means we often have to blood quickly.

And that brings us on to the players. We have a seriously talented group of players under 22. The harsh reality however is that not all have shown the desire to be county players. Some have of course. For those who haven’t; in a way I don’t blame them. The commitment is huge. And it is far harder to make an impact at county level, especially if you are a forward, than it has ever been in the past. But these young players need to decide if they really want to make the sacrifice.

For the management they need to move on with those who want to commit and wish those well who don’t. There is a hell of a lot of work ahead and the only way that progress can be made is for everyone to be on the same page and for everyone to take a long hard look in the mirror at themselves, management included. That may seem harsh, but it is not meant to be. It is just the reality of what is needed. The more brutal reality is that doing all of that still doesn’t guarantee success. But, it at least gives you a chance.