It is a mellow evening in Lissan, and Joe Baldwin is looking relaxed ahead of a huge game on Sunday, June 2 in Croke Park.

There is very little he does not know about Longford having once been part of the backroom team.

And he also knows of the huge threat of the Leinster side’s recent prized acquisition, one Cian D’Arcy from Tipperary whose only connection is that his mammy was from Longford.

But Baldwin is more concerned about Fermanagh’s own game and how they can improve the way they start and not going behind by 13 points as they did against Longford and by nine against Cavan before coming back to draw both matches.

So how worried is Baldwin?

“It is a worry yes, but I can think of games where we also started so well in Warwickshire where we settled the game fairly swiftly.

“But against Longford, it is a bit of a worry and sooner or later if you give teams a lead like that you are just not going to be able to claw it back.

“But against that we have character and belief that we can pull through.”

Anyone at the Longford match were treated to a great exhibition of hurling.

“The referee Kevin Brady said it was one of the best games of hurling of the whole weekend and only people who were there could bear testimony to that.

“It finished 3-18 to 2-21 and we are hoping that we can repeat that.

“But we need to work on our start and Seamus Breslin will be showing us the video.

“We have to try and figure that out and we might need to bring in our psychologist Annie Higgins.

“We are trying to cover every base we can but it is heartening that most of the players have played in Croke Park before and we won the Lory Meagher Cup in 2021 and gave a very good account of ourselves in the Nickey Rackard Cup and should have stayed up last year.”

He added: “We only have a squad of 26 and that shows the level of commitment.

“I travelled down from Loughgiel this evening and we have boys based in Dublin, Belfast and Caolan Duffy comes from Liverpool and we only have around nine or 10 players who are actually living in the county.

“It is a huge effort. And the coaches live in Sligo.

“A few years ago, we had Kevin McGarry who came back to play for us and he had been in the Down set-up and he said our set-up was as good as he had ever seen at inter-county level and that is a huge tribute to the team.”

When asked what were the three things he learned from the Longford match.

“Obviously we need a better start, and our discipline needs to be better.

“We over-played the ball in the middle third and we need to get the ball in quickly to our fast forwards.”

Baldwin added that there was savage competition for places and no team was yet picked.

When asked how they were going to handle ex-Tipperary senior player Cian D’Arcy who scored 1-12 the last day, he said: “It is just not D’Arcy but we will have a plan for him and we have to cut off the supply to him. 

“But they only scored seven points in the second half and we scored 1-14.

“I see it as a 50/50 game, and I know their manager Adrian Moran as we holidayed together, and he is a passionate hurling man.

“The last time Longford were in a Lory Meagher Cup final in 2022, Adrian asked me to travel to Croke Park to help out, and I had no hesitation.

“I know he would do the same for me.

“He is from Ringstown in Westmeath and he brings huge passion to the game and he managed a Westmeath U21 team to a win over Kilkenny.

“We have never lost to Longford, and I hope that continues.”

Croke Park should suit Fermanagh’s pace and the experience of winning there in 2021 is immeasurable according to Baldwin.

And John Duffy, Sean Corrigan, Danny Teague, Ryan Bogue and JP McGarry are going for their third Lory Meagher medal.

“We are like a little family and we were blessed with the news that our captain Ryan Bogue and Aine had a baby boy called Iarla.

“We are a tight bunch, and it is a joy to be here.

“This is my sixth year here and every mile down the road is worthwhile.

“Fermanagh people are great, and the county board really backed us when we needed it when Croke Park were effectively trying to put an end to our competitions.

“It is very easy to go to a high profile team and coach them but not as easy to come to a place that has not had success.

“Last year hurt a lot when we were relegated and came down from the Nickey Rackard Cup and we lost seven games by just a point.

“It is all about winning and I am trying to get that message across. And I think about my son Conall who passed away in 2012 and I almost feel as if I am chasing this for him.

“He would be 24 now if he had lived, the same age as a lot of the boys out there.

“I see Conall in them. The skill of Luca (McCusker), the humour of Tom (Keenan) and I see that privately.

“I remember having Conall in Ballyhale Shamrocks and Conall asked TJ Reid what his most important medal he had and remember TJ already had about 18 medals between senior and underage etc and he said 'the next one'.

“And this week coming in our most important medal is the next one. So while we have won a few before we are trying to get Ryan Bogue up the steps.

“I lost my first All-Ireland with Antrim senior camogie team back in 2012 and when you lose a final in Croke Park it is the loneliest place in the world.

“When you are in Croke Park and you win it is like your wedding day, the birth of your child and it is the greatest feeling you will ever have.

“And now we are back with a bunch of lads who have worked so hard to try and win it and to get us back in that dressing room on our own for that 30 seconds just to put the cup on the floor and to stand in a huddle and to say 'mission accomplished'."