By Niall Keenan
All roads lead to Newbridge as Fermanagh begin their Allianz NFL 2 campaign on Sunday. There is a new face in the Fermanagh dugout this season with Ryan McMenamin stepping up to replace Rory Gallagher at the helm. The former Tyrone defender will begin his quest for promotion with a trip south to take on Kildare, also fresh-faced with the appointment of All-Ireland winning manager Jack O’Connor.
The Erne County looked dead set on promotion last year after going unbeaten in their opening five games which included a 0-8 to 0-6 win over the Lilywhites in Enniskillen but after finishing 3rd they find themselves in Division 2 for the second consecutive season following promotion in 2018.
Lee Cullen, Barry Mulrone, Eamon McHugh and Ryan Lyons are some of the names not involved this term. Sean Quigley has also left the panel but in Darragh Mcgurn there is perhaps a young, hungry and ready-made replacement at McMenamin’s disposal. The senior squad has been training with the U20’s in recent weeks and some of the younger lads are poised to make the step up. Callum Jones and Sean Cassidy being the prime candidates.
Fermanagh underwent a low-key McKenna Cup campaign with defeats to Down and Antrim but their opponents also experienced an early exit from pre-season competition. Jack O’Connor suffered defeat in his opener against Longford in the O’Byrne Cup before returning to winning ways with a 1-11 to 0-10 victory over Carlow.
The appointment of O’Connor has brought renewed hope in the “thoroughbred” county and the Kerry native has brought back some big names to help the cause. Full-forward Ben McCormack and adventurous corner-back Mark Dempsey may no longer be involved but Johnny Byrne, Kevin Flynn, Paul Cribbin and Niall Kelly have returned to the fold. Youngster Jack Robinson has stood out in pre-season.
Daniel Flynn is also back from a stint in the USA and his involvement could be paramount to the Lilywhites success this season. Flynn spent time with Port Adelaide in the AFL a few years back and the introduction of the advanced mark could make him a key player. Fermanagh supporters may remember the 1-03 he scored as Kildare steamrolled their way through Rory Gallagher’s side en route to the Super 8s in 2018.
Kildare will have similar aspirations this season and they are hotly-tipped contenders for promotion but Fermanagh could make a surge for the top-flight again this season, a result here would really boost their chances.
The main aim however, will be staying in Division 2. It is critical for the Ernemen this year due to the introduction of the two-tier championship. Teams from Division 1 and 2 will enter the All-Ireland qualifiers when eliminated from their provincial championship except for the two teams relegated from Division 2. They will be replaced by the two counties who are promoted from Division 3 which would mean if Fermanagh were relegated, they would be in the second-tier championship come this summer.