Fermanagh triumph in jittery Ulster affair against Antrim

Sending off of Antrim’s Seán McVeigh ruined an already poor match

Fermanagh 1-13 Antrim 0-8

Very odd. Not a hint of maliciousness. Nothing. An already poor match was ultimately ruined by the unfortunate, albeit correct, red carding of Seán McVeigh.

It was all too nice. Pete McGrath, the wise old Down man now overseeing Fermanagh, put it down to the apprehension that comes with first day jitters.

That was never going to last. This uncharacteristic Ulster championship duel sleep walked to the half-hour mark when McVeigh careered into Ciarán Flaherty. Whether it was intentional or not, the midfielder made solid contact and Flaherty crumpled into the turf.

Maurice Deegan is an experienced referee. The Laois man took his time, consulted with Down linesman Brendan Rice, who seemed to confirm a raised arm, before dismissing McVeigh.


“I thought the Fermanagh guy (Flaherty) slipped as Seán was coming in with the shoulder, maybe I’m wrong,” was Antrim manager Frank Fitzsimmons’s immediate reaction. “I thought it was harsh. What did you think?”

They may appeal by arguing it was a case of poor timing as McVeigh’s arm could be seen as a protective measure.

Antrim promptly dropped the other 14 players into their own territory as they endeavoured to steal scores on the break, a tactic that ruined any chance of a decent spectacle. They were already 0-4 to 0-3 behind but at least CJ McGourty was on the field. A hip problem meant Fitzsimmons pulled this star man from the starting line-up.

McGourty, arriving on 24 minutes, quickly clipped over two frees but Fermanagh seemed in firm control at the turn, leading 0-6 to 0-4. Ryan Jones waded up from midfield to claim two points while four forwards got on the score sheet.

But it was awfully tame. There wasn’t even a scuffle after McVeigh’s clash with Flaherty. That there was one more wide than scores reflects the quality of first-half play. Meek stuff devoid of the usual animosity associated with a summer gathering in Brewster Park.

“We were playing with a lot of caution, a lot of apprehension,” McGrath explained. “There were some great moves out of defence, fluency, off the shoulder, supporting each other in the second half which identified what this team is about, how we like to play.

“But the first game in the Ulster championship, for any team, you go in with a wee bit of worry. The fact that Fermanagh haven’t won a championship match since 2010, these things play on people’s minds. There is no doubt about that.

“My experience of championship, going back a long time, even if you are an experienced team the first day can be a wee bit unnerving. You just don’t know until the action begins how you are going to deal with the pressure and the intensity.”

Suppose that explains it. Until you remember the manic affair witnessed when Tyrone visited Ballybofey. Different sport.

The drabness carried into the second half with Deegan keeping a firm grip on proceedings when yellow carding Tony Scullion and Paul McCusker. They were barely even grappling.

“I think the referee refereed the game well,” McGrath continued. “He wasn’t an obstacle to play being moved on, he didn’t obstruct play. He got his calls right, generally.”

This strange flatness was momentarily resuscitated by Jones’s third point, a monstrous effort from about 40 metres out. That, followed by another Seán Quigley free to make it 0-9 to 0-5 but normal service was quickly resumed. You could hear the players talking.

McGourty's accuracy kept Antrim in touch, he finished with 0-6, but Fermanagh were easily the superior team. Barry Mulrone got the point of the day as matters briefly ignited with a pacy transfer of ball through five pairs of hands.

Eventually it became a procession as Daniel Kille and McCusker scores ended any chance of an Antrim smash and grab. A fourth Quigley free made it 0-13 to 0-8.

The end, mercifully, came after Niall Delargy hauled down Kille.

Quigley slid the penalty home. Deegan blew it up. All best forgotten.

At least Fermanagh know they can only improve before facing Monaghan in three weeks.

"We played well enough to get a comfortable victory," was McGrath's logic and he did note the imminent return of their captain Eoin Donnelly. However, Ryan McCluskey and Ruairí Corrigan picked up injuries.

Now, where to play the Ulster semi-final, surely not in Clones?

“That’s a decision we might have an input to, I’m not sure,” McGrath added. “There have been semi-finals in Breffni Park before. They are talking about trying to spread the games around these big stadiums so here’s an opportunity with the fact that Clones is Monaghan’s home ground.”

FERMANAGH: 1 C Snow; 2 M Jones, 3 N Cassidy, 4 M O'Brien; 5 D McCusker, 6 R McCluskey, 7 J McMahon; 8 R Jones (0-3), 9 R O'Callaghan; 10 B Mulrone (0-2), 11 C Flaherty (0-1), 15 R Corrigan; 13 T Corrigan (0-1), 14 S Quigley (1-4, four frees, 1-0 pen), 12 P McCusker (0-1).

Subs: 22 D Kille (0-1) for R Corrigan (21 mins, inj), 17 A Breen for R McCluskey (29 mins, inj).

ANTRIM: 1 C Kerr; 2 R Johnson, 4 C Burke, 7 N Delargy; 5 J Crozier, 10 J Laverty, 6 T Scullion; 3 S McVeigh, 8 C Murray; 12 P McBride, 11 O Gallagher, 9 M Sweeney; 21 K McGourty (0-1), 14 M Pollock, 15 R Murray (0-1).

Subs: 13 CJ McGourty (0-6, all frees) for M Pollock (24 mins), 17 D Lynch for P McBride, 19 J Dowling for O Gallagher (both half-time), 25 C Duffin for R Johnson (53 mins), 22 N O'Neill for M Sweeney, 23 D McAleese for R Murray (both 60 mins).

Referee: M Deegan (Laois).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent