The month of June tends to be one of the busiest in the calendars of the six county sides as coaches up and down Northern Ireland fine tune their squads ahead of the start of the STATSports SuperCupNI in July.
County Fermanagh have been one of a number of counties to participate in three inter-county tournaments in three successive weekends and Premier manager Scott Robinson said those intense competitions have helped to develop his panel as a unit.
“We had the Orchard Cup, the George Henderson Cup and the Gary Bownes Cup in three weekends in a row and it was tough on them but to be fair to the lads they all worked incredibly hard.
“We were hit with a few injuries and a few lads have had to dig in and play back to back games.
“As coaches we have been really pleased with their progress and we now have our 18 man squad back fit and ready and we will be working hard now to fine tune things before the end of July.”
Despite having one of the smallest available pools of players nationwide, Robinson said he is delighted with the make up of his panel.
“There is a really good blend of experience and those experiencing the competition for the first time. We’ve the likes of Darragh McPhillips, Adam McDonald and Odhran Mulligan making their debut in their final year and they have been three great additions to the squad and they really stood out at the trials.
“We have a number of players who have returned from last year including the likes of Darragh Byrne who is a real leader and Michael Glynn who has plenty of experience at the competition.”
Robinson was delighted with the outcome of the draw and said that his side are excited at the prospect of taking on Spanish giants Valencia in the opening game at the Coleraine Showgrounds.
“To be honest I sat at the draw and just hoped that we got Celtic or Valencia and I was delighted to be able to get Valencia. It is an extra added bonus the fact that we play them at the Coleraine Showgrounds.”
Last summer Fermanagh were faced with an unknown quantity in NI Select on the opening day.
The local select side stepped in to replace Spartak Moscow at late notice and Robinson said the late change was a huge blow.
“It was hard to lift the boys last year when they knew that they didn’t have that big glamour tie, but we are really excited this year to face Valencia and then face Strikers on day two, before finishing up with a big county clash with Armagh.”
Robinson is blessed to be able to call upon the experience and knowledge of Barry Anderson, Ernie Irvine, Nigel Keys and Keith Malone in the dug-out and he said he was delighted that Chris McDowell agreed to join his backroom team.
“Before starting out this year I thought we needed a fresh voice and Chris has been brilliant. Having the likes of Chris and Barry there allows me to step back at times and observe the players and step in whenever I can.
“We are also incredibly lucky to have been invited to the FAI National Soccer Campus as guests of U17 manager Tom Mohan at the end of June.
“Tom is a really proud Fermanagh man and has always been a great supporter of our work. He has invited us down to Dublin to do some training at the FAI training centre and then we are playing Bohemians the following day.”
The newly appointed NFC Kesh manager added that it is an exciting time for all involved and said that everyone is looking forward to the beginning of the competition.
“Our schedule has been hectic over the last few weeks and we have really only done recovery sessions and light bits of ball work.
“Over the next few weeks we will be working on our set-pieces, continuing with our strength and conditioning and a bit of team-building.
“This group is a really strong one and I’ve not seen a tighter unit since I’ve become involved with the Fermanagh setup. There are no cliques and since we named the squad everyone has gelled well and really dug in and worked hard for each other.”
The Fermanagh Junior side will be led by Lee Hamilton and they have been pitted against two English sides and defending champions County Antrim.
The Lakeland County U15 side will take on Charlton Athletic in Ahoghill on the opening day of the competition, before facing 2018 champions Antrim in Ballymoney on Tuesday afternoon.
Fermanagh’s third and final clash in the qualifying section is against Yorkshire giants Leeds United in Broughshane on Wednesday evening.
Fermanagh Premier – fixtures and venues
Monday, July 29th – 3pm – Fermanagh v Valencia – Showgrounds, Coleraine.
Tuesday, July 30th – 2pm – Fermanagh v Strikers – Riada 2, Ballymoney.
Wednesday, July 31st – 3pm – Fermanagh v Armagh – The Warren, Portstewart
Fermanagh Junior – fixtures and venues
Monday, July 29th – 12pm – Fermanagh v Charlton Athletic – Ahoghill.
Tuesday, July 30th – 1.30pm – Fermanagh v County Antrim – Riada Stadium, Ballymoney.
Wednesday, July 31st – 7pm – Fermanagh v Leeds United – Broughshane