by James McMahon
Fermanagh emerged victorious from their preliminary round Ulster SFC meeting with Down at Brewster Park.
In truth, Malachy O’Rourke’s side deserved their success, as their more direct approach reaped dividends against a Down attacking unit that failed to function in the second period.
Ross Carr's outfit failed to score in the last 24 minutes, and while their talisman Benny Coulter chipped in with two fine points, he did not look fit.
The fare at the Enniskillen venue was entertaining throughout, without ever reaching any great levels of intensity. The first half saw the sides level six times, with Down’s Aidan Carr displaying unerring accuracy from placed balls.
Fermanagh's policy of shooting on sight – a welcome approach from their over use of the hand pass in recent seasons – served them well from the outset and Tommy McElroy’s punt from 40 yards dissected the posts with barely a minute gone.
James Sherry also got in on the act from 35 yards out in the fifth minute and the home supporters were finding their voice early on. Sherry's second point after 10 had the sides level at 0-03 to 0-03, and the trend was set for the remainder of the half.
Mark Little, a survivor from the Ernesiders’ heroics in 2004, put Fermanagh back in front after 12 minutes before Peter Fitzpatrick levelled again for the Mournemen a minute later.
Marty McGrath's booming effort after 20 minutes was the best score of the half. and this was before a certain Ryan Carson was to make his mark on proceedings. Making his championship debut, the Fermanagh full-forward scored the first of his six points after 25 minutes to edge his side a point ahead – 0-7 to 0-6.
The remaining period of the half saw the game become somewhat ragged, as the rain poured down. However, credit to both sides for their ball handling skills in the difficult conditions. A Stephen Kearney point in the second minute of added time saw the teams go in level at the break.
Down started the second half in a purposeful mood, with Paul McCumiskey’s fisted effort and a trademark score from Coulter, putting them two clear after five minutes.
Fermanagh’s response was a goal-bound effort from Marty McGrath, but it flashed wide. However, Carson settled the nerves when a tapped over a close in free, before Danny Hughes restored Down’s two point advantage after 56 minutes.
That was as good as it got for the visitors. The momentum swung Fermanagh’s with their attack now unsettling the red and black defence and full-back Shane Lyons making some rampaging runs. Carson contributed four more points, with Ciaran McElroy getting another as Fermanagh ran out three points winners.
Down’s misery was compounded when Aidan Carr was sent off for a needless foul in injury time.
For Fermanagh, it's now a date with Cavan on 6 June, as they bid to make an Ulster final and atone for last year’s disappointment.
Fermanagh: C Breen, N Bogue, S Lyons, H Brady, R McCluskey, S McDermott, T McElroy 0-1, M McGrath 0-1, J Sherry 0-2, R Keenan, C McElroy 0-1, M Little 0-1, D Keenan 0-1, R Carson 0-6, E Maguire. Subs - P Sherry for McCluskey, S O'Brien for Little, R Foy for C McElroy.
Down: B McVeigh, L Howard, P Turley, D Rafferty, K Duffin, C Garvey, D Rooney, D Gordon, P Fitzpatrick 0-1, A Carr 0-2, B Coulter 0-2, S Kearney 0-1, D Hughes 0-2, R Murtagh, P McComiskey 0-2. Subs - J O'Reilly for Murtagh, J Boyle for Kearney, C Maginn for Fitzpatrick.
Referee: John Bannon (Longford)