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Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Thursday, 14 May 2009 16:29 UK

Fermanagh to edge home

Rory Gallagher
By Rory Gallagher
BBC sideline analyst

Neither Down nor Fermanagh will be particularly happy about having to start their campaign at the preliminary round stage.

Down boss Ross Carr
Ross Carr will be hoping that Down can stem the flow of goals.

However both counties will see it as a good draw with the winners having a great opportunity to progress right through to the decider.

Have no doubt, both sets of players will not even be contemplating the back door route.

Both counties crave an Ulster Championship success. It has been 15 long years in Down and simply too long in Fermanagh!

I expect a Titanic battle on Sunday with two sets of players giving their all with a 'win at all costs' mentality. There is just too much at stake for too many players and managements for it not to be do or die.

An early Ulster Championship exit for Down could all but signal the end for Ross Carr and DJ Kane, while defeat for Fermanagh would be a serious step backwards from last season's adventure.

At a quick glance you would say that Down would be favourites given that they had a successful NFL campaign, gaining promotion from Division Three while the Ernemen dropped down to Division Three.

Ultimately Down achieved their goal of promotion, but this hides the fact that their performances did not show improvement or consistency.

In the eight league games Down played, they lost three - to Cavan, Limerick and then Tipperary in the Division Three final. They also scraped by Louth when Louth missed a penalty in the last minute to win the game.

Take it from me, this is hardly form that will frighten Fermanagh. Looking back on last year's Championship both Ross Carr and Malachy O'Rourke will be well aware that their teams came up short.

606: DEBATE
Your thoughts on the Championship opener on 606

Putting it simply, the Down defence leaked too many scores, particularly goals, while the Fermanagh attack failed to create and take enough simple scoring opportunities.

I do not think either manager can say they have solved their respective problems, based on their league campaigns.

For example, Down conceded eight goals in their six Championship matches in 2008.

They need to develop defenders who enjoy defending, who want to be negative and whose primary job is to stop their markers getting the ball. Players like Shane Goan and Ryan McCluskey spring to mind.

Fermanagh failed to score more than 11 points in any of their five Championship games last year. In three of those games they scored eight points or less. They need players who can win possession close to goal, penetrate defences and kick points. They would love a Benny Coulter or a Paul McComiskey.

So who is going to win? Down have the potential to blow this game wide open with forwards like Coulter and McComiskey capable of hitting the net several times over.

I think Fermanagh will concentrate of keeping things tight early on with huge numbers of men behind the ball when not in possession. So for me, Fermanagh will take the plaudits as I believe they have more players who can handle the tight games and make the right decisions when the game is there to be won with 15 minutes to go.

Players like McCluskey, McGrath, Little and McDermott have been down this road many times in this last five or six years and I just feel their experience and know-how will help Fermanagh scrape over the line.



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