Sports

Fermanagh and Western action kicks off again

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Fermanagh and Western action kicks off again thumbnailMountjoy United's John Edgar playing against Lisnaskea Rovers.

SATURDAY sees the return of the Fermanagh and Western Football League, and local teams all around the region are all hoping to get off on the right foot.

Clubs have been busy over the last two months bolstering their squads and putting in the hard work on the training field in preparation for Sundays

Last year, Strathroy Harps dominated the trophy front, winning the Division One title ahead of Fermanagh chasers Lisbellaw United and Enniskillen Town United.

They began the year by securing the traditional season opener, the Kennedy Cup, and would be Mulhern Cup champions by the end of the season after a penalty shoot-out win over Beragh Swifts.

The Irish Junior Cup also headed west last season with Enniskillen Rangers romping home over Hill Street at Belfast's Windsor Park in May.

At the other end of the top table, Strule United couldn't survive after promotion a year before, and were relegated along with Enniskillen Santos.

In Division Two, Mountjoy enjoyed an almost 'invincible' season to take the Enda Love Cup, with Lisnaskea Rovers just edging past Dergview Reserves to finish as runners up and move up.

Castlederg club St Patrick's would suffer a second successive relegation after collecting just seven point in 18 games, while Drumquin United would also miss out on survival.

After a year out of Fermanagh and Western, Fintona Swifts marked their return by winning the Division Three title by nine points. Ardstraw Reserves just pipped out Ballygawley, another reformed club, to clinch the second promotion spot and move up this season.

Tummery Athletic have Benny McElholm back at the helm, and they take on Enniskillen Town United at their Crawford's Lane home. The former Omagh Town defender was clear from the start that he had to strengthen his squad, and has done that with the additions of Ryan Hanna, Cathal Beacom, Aidan Lynch, Paddy Doherty and Johhny Winser.

"I'm content with what I have. They've settled in well. There is a bit of momentum at the club and buzz since I've come back in.

"I don't read too much into it as I'm just there to get the boys prepared for the games. To tell the truth I'm glad the season is getting going.

"I'm under no illusions, it will be a tough season. There will be a lot of teams who will be a few seasons ahead of us in terms of progression, experience and what they've won. They'll set the bar so it's up to the likes of us to challenge ourselves and be as good as the teams around us. I've no doubt we'll be a match for anybody."

David Gillfillan's Mountjoy have put in an extensive pre-season ahead as they look forward to life in the top tier.

"We've played nine matches in pre-season, I think we're pretty much firing on all cylinders at the moment," said the manager.

"The aim this year is to win more games than we lose. We don't want to just survive and go for third bottom. We'll be pushing towards the mid-table if we can. It's about how we fare against the more physical demands of Division One.

"We still have a very young squad relatively speaking. There will hopefully be a good supply line of players coming through. We don't know how many of those young players will come into the team this year but there will definitely be boys moving up from thirds to seconds."

Beragh Swifts will be hoping to again be among the front-runners. Keith Hamilton's men pushed Strathroy to the limit in the Mulhern Cup final, only losing out on penalties after a goalless draw. The Swifts boss is hoping to push on again this year: "We'll have much the same team as last year, we've lost a few and gained a few. Enniskillen Rangers, Lisbellaw and Strathroy will be strong. We're hoping to push on."

Over at Strathroy Harps, new manager Shane Horisk is tasked with continuing the winning legacy left behind by Seamus Fanthorpe.

"We won a few pre-season competitions so it is good to get keep that winning mentality going. It's been positive and the boys have been well-focused.

"It's like a new chapter without Seamus there. I feel we should be doing it for not only the club but also for him and what he's left for us.

"Personally speaking, those pre-season wins have done my heart a bit of good. Going into it I was thinking 'how do I go about this?'. You don't want to go in there and be a carbon copy of Seamus.

"A lot of young guys are cutting their teeth in the team at the minute, Cameron and Joachim Smith and Eoghan Gallagher, they are very young players and it's a learning curve for them."

The old guard still have the hunger according to Horisk. Darren Teague and Marty Flanagan are returning to the squad this week, while Tony Quinn "is like a new signing this year." The experienced Ryan Sharkey has also come back to the squad after a two-year break.

"The young boys are learning off the older boys, and vice versa. The young boys have sort of been a victim of the success, they never really go their chance as we had such a good winning team. They've had their chance now in pre-season and shown us what they can do."

Killen Rangers manager Gary Sproule has seen Adam Buchanan and Timmy Crompton leave for Dergview. He does though welcome James Edgar from Ballinamallard Reserves, Tristan Roberts back from Strabane, and 17-year-old Callum Leonard from Mountfield

"The plan this year, being so young, is to get those young boys some experience," says Sproule. "They are all good footballers but maybe just lacking some of the physicality at times. They are full of energy though, keen to get at it and don't have fear."

Killen have had difficulty maintaining his squad for a number of years with higher level clubs Dergview and Ardstraw on their doorstep. "They'll always be looking around trying to get better players. At the same time I don't any player that leaves me, I wish them all the best and hope they do well. If things don't work out for them, they are welcome back.

For Sproule, staying in Division One is the objective: "Our main starting point is to stay there, and keep the boys together and push on after that."

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