Fermanagh climb to new heights

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round Four: Fermanagh 0-12 Mayo 1-8 Fermanagh even looked impressive during their 15-minute warm-…

All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers Round Four: Fermanagh 0-12 Mayo 1-8 Fermanagh even looked impressive during their 15-minute warm-up. Despite the rain, manager Dominic Corrigan put his full panel through what was clearly a well structured pre-match session and in the match itself the Ulster team left Mayo generally looking second-best before a packed umbrella-covered attendance in Sligo on Saturday.

"The last time we were in Croke Park it amounted to something like scenic viewing but the next time we will mean business. Remember, we are only 70 minutes away now from an All-Ireland semi-final," said a delighted Corrigan.

The match, fought out with great pace and skill on a slippery, well grassed surface, was eventually placed on a knife-edge when James Gill set up the move for Trevor Mortimer to score a great goal 28 minutes into the second half.

"We were comfortable with a four-point lead at the time and it really rocked us back on our heels," admitted Corrigan.


Those who like their football laced with nail-biting tension were catered for in a blistering finish.

Raymond Gallagher, in typical fashion, restored Fermanagh's lead to two points with five minutes of ordinary time left, but Trevor Mortimer popped up to narrow the gap to the minimum and real drama followed. Maurice Sheridan, who had applied for hero status early on with brilliantly taken frees, suddenly encountered a nightmare.

He shaped up to a free towards the right touchline for the equaliser in lost time. Sheridan would normally convert from this distance and angle with his eyes closed, but he seemed to lose his footing on the slippery surface and miskicked, the ball never rising more than a couple of feet in flight towards the Fermanagh posts.

In the resultant scramble, late substitute Liam Moffett pointed, but referee John Geaney adjudged he had touched the ball on the ground and awarded a free out.

Almost immediately, Mayo were back on the attack and when Brian Maloney was fouled 35 yards out almost in front of the posts Sheridan was given an unexpected second chance to square the match, but this time his shot didn't quite make it at the near post.

"Okay, the frees that could have forced extra time - something I would not have fancied - dropped short but our defence had to clear. The final whistle was like sweet music to my ears," said Corrigan.

A hugely disappointed John Maughan, the Mayo manager, reckoned his team had failed to do themselves justice: "We had too many periods of dominance when we failed to put scores on the board."

Maughan had to reshuffle his side at the start, bringing in Enda Sheehy, the former Dublin player, to partner Gill in midfield with James Nallen moving back to centre back and Gary Mullins going to the right wing-back position. Noel Connolly came in at left half-back with Aidan Higgins moving back to the left corner.

There was little comparison between the respective defences. The Fermanagh full-back line of Ryan McCloskey, Barry Owens and Michael Lilley were the epitome of solidity and Paul Brewster's high catching of the wet ball in midfield suggested he had flypaper on his hands. Midfielder Martin McGrath also stood out.

Corrigan expected the match to be won and lost in the middle third of the pitch and was almost spot on - his team controlled that sector.

Afterwards he admitted the performance against Meath was better "but this was the sweeter victory".

"It must be acknowledged that we are now a match for anyone in the country," he added. "We will concentrate on the Sam Maguire this year and next year concentrate on winning the Ulster title."

Fermanagh shot seven first-half wides against Mayo's one and led 0-7 to 0-6 at half time. The second half was packed with highlights. A well executed fly-kick by Raymond Gallagher soared narrowly wide and when play switched to the other end Ronan Gallagher somehow stopped a close-range rocket from Maloney. Ger Brady, a substitute for Alan Dillon, hit the Fermanagh bar and late call-up Ciarán O'Reilly hit a Mayo post.

Stephen Maguire, who passed a fitness test on the eve of the match, finished off a great move to put two points between the teams and points from James Sherry and Ronan McCabe had Fermanagh four points ahead with seven minutes of ordinary time remaining.

Mortimer's goal pulled the deficit back to a point but Raymond Gallagher pointed a Fermanagh free. The best Mayo could do was to reduce the deficit to a point with four minutes of injury time remaining.

The way Fermanagh responded to Tom Brewster's retirement with injury was one of the most pleasing aspects for Corrigan. "We are a side of great character and hunger," he said. "To maximise our talents has been our aim all along."

Later he told the dejected Mayo players: "Maybe we got the rub of the green at the finish."

FERMANAGH: Ronan Gallagher; R McCloskey, B Owens M Lilley; S McDermott, K Gallagher, N Cox; P Brewster, M McGrath; T Brewster (0-3, two 45s), Raymond Gallagher (0-2, one free), R Keenan; K Donnelly, S Maguire (0-3), C O'Reilly (0-2, one free). Subs: J Sherry (0-1) for T Brewster 44 mins, R McCabe (0-1) for O'Reilly (60 mins), S Doherty for Donnelly (63 mins), R Johnton for Keenan (71 mins).

MAYO: F Ruddy; K Mortimer, D Heaney, A Higgins; G Mullins, J Nallen, N Connolly; E Sheehy, J Gill; T Mortimer (1-1), D Sweeney, A Dillon; C Mortimer, B Maloney (0-2, one 45), M Sheridan (0-5, 4 frees). Subs: G Brady for Dillon (51 mins), D Tiernan for D Sweeney (54 mins), L Moffett for C Mortimer (58 mins).

Referee: J Geaney (Cork).