FERMANAGH boss John O’Neill last night launched a stout defence of his management after surviving a player revolt in March.
Speaking for the first time since the county board decided to back him and reject GAA-GPA recommendations following the decision of 11 players to leave the panel earlier this season, the Lisnaskea Emmetts man pointed out his team had the meanest defence in the entire country during the league.
“There was plenty of media hype going on at the time and the fact we were losing everything was being attributed on certain doorsteps,” recalled O’Neill at Fermanagh’s press night in Lissan before the Ulster SFC quarter-final with Derry on May 22.
“If you look at our (Division 4) games, we won four, drew one, lost three, we had one non-performance against Longford and we hold our hands up for that. But the other three games could have gone either way.
“Across all the divisions, we conceded the least number of scores. It was the couple of goals against Longford and Wicklow that resulted in our demise.”
O’Neill admits it was a testing time for everyone in the panel, both among the management and players.
“We were going through a spell both on and off the pitch where things weren’t going well for us. Some of those were of our making and some of them weren’t. But we’ve come through it, it’s in the past and we don’t talk about it now.
“This is a completely new squad, all the guys have bought into it. It was never going to be a short fix. We were only in the job four months and we set about rebuilding it. This is year one of rebuilding it.
“The experiences the boys have had both on and off the pitch, the experiences they’re going to have in the championship will stand them in good stead next year when we try and get out of Division 4 again.”
O’Neill believes Fermanagh’s difficult start to the league contributed to the furore.
“When we saw the fixtures first we were aware we were playing against the teams that were going to be in the shake-up for promotion in our first five games.
“We always knew the last three were games we were expected to win with the exception perhaps of Clare.
“We lost five league points in the last three minutes of three matches. Wicklow kicked a point in the fourth minute of injury-time, Roscommon scored a goal with the last kick of the game and Leitrim kicked a point in the second minute of injury-time to beat us.
“We could nearly put our league campaign down to the last five minutes of three matches.”
O’Neill was keen to clarify some of what was reported at the time concerning the extent of personnel turnover in his panel was exaggerated.
“A lot of people were keen to point out that there were none of the team that played the 2008 Ulster final on board (with me) but 12 of them had already gone before I took over. There were only three of them there anyway.”
Six or seven players are expected to make their championship debuts for Fermanagh in Celtic Park on Sunday fortnight.
However, O’Neill is confident that, despite the odds being staked against his team, they will bring with them decent support from the Erne County.
Meanwhile, former All Star Marty McGrath hasn’t been included in the Fermanagh championship panel. McGrath is still recovering from a serious tendonitis problem.
Picture: WATCHING BRIEF: Manager John O’Neill, centre, and the Fermanagh subs watch the Allianz FL Division 4 clash against Kilkenny. John O’Neill last night launched a stout defence of his management after surviving a player revolt in March. See story above. Picture: Ray McManus
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