New Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher says managing his native county was something that he hoped to do at some stage in his career although he did not necessarily expect it to come at this point.
Gallagher had intended in taking time out after stepping down as Donegal manager in the summer but calls from a couple of Fermanagh players raised his interest in the position vacated by Pete McGrath.
“A couple of players initially touched base to see would I be interested and Greg Kelly (county chairman) followed up with a phone call. I was heading on holidays and I said that I would think about it and chat when I came back,” said Gallagher, who now lives in Killybegs.
“Ideally you would wait 12 months and I was thinking along those lines. There were a couple of different things came up but I suppose, number one, Fermanagh is where I’m from and number two, geographically, I would be in Enniskillen not a whole lot longer than it would take me to go to Letterkenny.
“I was intrigued by the Fermanagh thing, probably in the back of your head it is something you would like to do at some stage of your life,” he said.
And the age profile of the current Fermanagh squad was another thing that encouraged Gallagher.
“The majority of them are between 22-23 and 28-29 which is a very good age group for players to push on. It is not as if you are carrying too many players who are past it. Obviously part of your remit is to try and develop young players but it is not as if you are relying on 18 or 19 year olds to come in and make a difference,” he added.
Gallagher also feels that the manner of Pete McGrath’s exit will mean that the players will have to stand up and be counted when the new season gets underway.
“Putting it back in the players’ court, the right or wrongs of what went on at the end of the year, they have backed themselves into a corner from my point of view and they have to stand up and be counted. They clearly feel they are a very committed bunch of players and I suppose I will test that out when we get going.”
Fermanagh’s season will commence with the McKenna Cup and Gallagher will be using the competition to ensure that they hit the ground running for the National League and a tough Division Three campaign.
“”I would look towards January 28 and the start of the National League, that will be the key date for me and the McKenna Cup will be in preparation for that. It is about working hard and arriving at the start of the league in very good shape,” he commented.
Indeed, Gallagher believes that a good league campaign is crucial if the side are to make their mark in the championship although he is setting no targets.
“The league is very important, you are going to have seven games in nine weeks and I’ve seen very few teams being successful in the summer if they haven’t had good league campaigns. We will have no big targets, at the minute it’s just about arriving at January 28 in very good shape,” he stated.
In terms of Championship, Gallagher is keen to address what has been a poor Ulster Championship record in recent years with Fermanagh having only defeated Antrim in the competition over the last seven seasons.
“What I would see is that Fermanagh have gone through a relatively lean spell, despite a reasonable run in the backdoor. Antrim is the only team they have beaten in the last seven years in Ulster and at the end of the day these players want to win Ulster Championship matches. Prior to that Fermanagh had a great spell from 1999 to 2010 where they won eight out of 11 first round championship matches.
“What I want to do is make sure we arrive at whatever date our championship is having done everything humanly possible to be very well prepared, very well coached, very fit, very organised and very together,” he said.
However, he stresses that the players need to do more if they are to win games in the provincial championship.
“I’ve no doubt that the Fermanagh players are capable of big performances but there are a whole lot of things that have to happen to win Ulster Championship matches. The boys have got to stand up and show more because what they have done previously hasn’t been good enough to win Ulster Championship matches and together we have to work hard for that.”
Gallagher has already started planning for the season ahead and that includes putting together his backroom team of Ryan McMenamin, Ronan Gallagher and Shane McCabe.
In putting it together, Gallagher, who stresses that he will be very hands on on the training pitch, felt it was crucial that he had people who could not only coach but also convey his message across to the players.
“You are looking for people that can coach and get across your message to the boys. While you spend an awful lot of time together in inter-county football, it is still not professional, it is not enough to get around 32-35 people. I want people to get a similar message across that I want and that we can ensure that there is no grey area for the players in what is expected of them.”
The inclusion of McMenamin has caught the eye both inside and outside the county and Gallagher feels the former Tyrone defender has plenty to offer.
I’ll be doing a lot of the training myself but I would maybe have looked at areas where I could be stronger in and I felt Ricey was a player who could do all roles as a defender.  He is not a guy I would have known particularly well but I’ve always been aware that he was heavily involved in coaching and anybody I’ve ever spoken to who has played with him enjoyed playing with him. I’m confident he will bring an awful lot to us,” he said.
And the manager is also working on selecting his squad as well as getting a feel for the players who will be at his disposal.
“I’ve met a number of players and we are in the process of putting together a squad. Fermanagh has a few difficulties in that you have a lot of guys employed and at college in both Dublin and Belfast. 
“With me not being involved with Fermanagh for a long time, it’s about getting to know them and understand their work and college dynamics. 
“I would want everybody that is committed, honest and good enough to play. 
“We understand that there is a lot going on in peoples lives but that’s the challenge over the next couple of weeks, to piece it together,” he concluded.