McGrath's men 'Erne' their seat with the elite ...
all-ireland sfc qualifier rd4a
PETE McGRATH didn't know who Fermanagh would be facing when the question was posed, but the veteran boss knew it would be a heavyweight. "What's the target now?" he was asked. "To win our next game."
So now he has to take out the Dubs. Easy-peasy!
The widely held presumption that Jim Gavin's favourites for Sam would face the winners of Cork/Kildare next Sunday was belied by the quirky qualifier fates on Saturday evening.
Kildare shredding Cork was obviously the big upset. Fermanagh doing something similar at Kingspan Breffni Park was far less of a shock, especially as the game evolved and it became crystal clear that a wilting Westmeath lacked the forward savvy to cope without John Heslin or the leaders to dig deep in a crisis.
Thus, even when Fermanagh led by just four at the three-quarter mark, it looked game over. Westmeath only scored two points over the last 45 minutes as they careered from three up to lose by nine.
So an adventure that peaked against Meath has finished in deflation ... whereas Fermanagh are now entering the bonus territory of a first All-Ireland quarter-final in 11 years. They thought it might be Kerry; instead it's Dublin. K2 or Everest, take your pick.
Afterwards, McGrath declared: "After Monaghan beat us here, I knew on that day that we could have beaten Monaghan. Some of our mistakes and the sending-off that day derailed us.
"I knew after that game that we had a serious team and I knew that we could be playing football in August. And I asked them, 'Do you want to be playing football in August?' Because I knew that they were capable and I asked them if they wanted to make the sacrifices and they said yes, they did. I said, 'Right, let's go out and tell the people that'."
As the mastermind of two All-Ireland titles with Down in the 1990s, McGrath appreciates what's required now. He will know Fermanagh cannot afford to kick 16 wides against Dublin. Or to be so jittery at the outset.
Notwithstanding their quibbles over the first half black cards dished out to Marty O'Brien and Ryan McCluskey, they cannot afford any similar loss of discipline next weekend because Dublin will punish them. They will also punish Fermanagh if Seán Quigley has a misfiring repeat: the talisman had eight shots on goal and converted just two.
Unlike Westmeath, though, who struggled without the freetaking acumen of Heslin (even more so after John Connellan hobbled off) Fermanagh could afford to move Quigley off the frees and even away from his original target man role.
Why? Because Tomás Corrigan, from the moment he struck a superb 33rd minute point to ignite Fermanagh, was on fire. His 64th minute goal, deftly chipping Gary Connaughton, was a moment of pure impudence. "I'd normally just fist it over - I don't know what came over me," the goalscorer admitted.
While Corrigan beamed after his 1-7 haul, Tom Cribbin was bereft. "It's hard to pinpoint all the things that went wrong in the second half," the Westmeath manager lamented.
"It's funny, you know, when you're coming off the pitch and everybody is congratulating you on having a great year and you're gutted because you're after losing by nine points in one half, and didn't play at all in the second half. It's just very, very difficult to take."
SCORERS - Fermanagh: T Corrigan 1-7 (5f), S Quigley(1f), D McCusker 0-2 each, N Cassidy, D Kelly 0-1 each. Westmeath: J Connellan 0-4 (2f), S Dempsey, D Glennon, R Connellan (f) 0-1 each.
FERMANAGH: T Treacy 7; M Jones 6, T Daly 7, N Cassidy 6; B Mulrone 7, R McCluskey 5, J McMahon 7; E Donnelly 6, R O'Callaghan 7; M O'Brien 5, R Jones 6, D McCusker 8; P McCusker 6, S Quigley 5, T Corrigan 9. Subs: D Kelly 6 for O'Brien (black 19), R Corrigan 7 for McCluskey (black 30), C Jones 6 for Donnelly (inj 44), C Cullen for Cassidy (70).
WESTMEATH: D Quinn 6; K Maguire 5, K Gavin 7, F Boyle 6; J Gilligan 6, P Holloway 6, K Daly 7; D Corroon 5, R Connellan 5; J Dolan 6, P Sharry 6, K Martin 5; J Connellan 8, D Glennon 6, S Dempsey 6. Subs: G Egan 5 for J Connellan (inj ht), D Lynch 6 for Maguire (41), D Daly 5 for Dempsey (46), G Connaughton 6 for Quinn (inj 56), L Smyth 6 for Glennon (58), P Greville 6 for Holloway (58).
WIDES: Fermanagh 16 (10+6); Westmeath 12 (7+5).
YELLOW: Fermanagh 3 (Jones 29, Mulrone 66, Cassidy 69); Westmeath 2 (Maguire 37, Boyle 51).
BLACK: Fermanagh 2 (O'Brien 19, McCluskey 28); Westmeath 0. REF: P Hughes (Armagh).
MAN OF MATCH: Tomás Corrigan (Fermanagh).