Late September and the Fermanagh County Board appointed Lisnaskea Emmett’s respected clubman , John O’Neill as team manager and he was awarded a three year contract (reviewable at the end of each season).
The immediate stated aim of the Board – and O’Neill – then was simply to get Fermanagh out of Division Four of the Allianz National Football League. His plans though have gone astray in a big way. Not only have the team lost all of their matches in the League to date but also far from restoring several experienced players to the team, as O’Neill had hoped for back in September instead he finds himself seriously short of players in the forthcoming weeks.
Indeed such is the sorry state of the game in the County that already local commentators believe that his job is already under threat especially as some six or more players appear to have quit in the past week alone, in protest at the Management.
O’Neill played for Fermanagh and managed the county’s minor and U21 sides before joining Charlie Mulgrew’s backroom team with the seniors in 2005.
“It’s always been an ambition to manage the county at senior level. I know there’s a big job ahead,” said O’Neill,at the time of his appointment.
Only last week, O’Neill assured reporters that there was NO unrest in the camp, adding :
“We had 27 players at training this week. The absentees all had entirely legitimate reasons. We have two fellows who have long-term injuries.
“James Sherry has a long-term injury after getting injured against Roscommon and Shane Lyons is undergoing a finger operation.
“A couple of weeks ago, two other senior players, who have been on the Fermanagh panel for eight or 10 years, decided to call it a day.
“They felt they couldn’t give the commitment at this time and we accepted it. These reports have been blown out of all proportion.”
Yes, for last Sunday’s game against Leitrim the side was short of Tommy McElroy, Niall Bogue and the Sherry brothers Peter and James who joined several other players in quitting O’Neill’s panel.
James Sherry had in fact an injury which would have kept him out of the side anyway but his brother Peter, McElroy and Bogue all withdrew from the panel only on Friday.
Mark Little had announced his withdrawal some two weeks before joining the Keenan brothers - Ryan and Daryl - Martin McGrath and Ryan McCluskey who had made themselves unavailable earlier this year.
Last Sunday’s defeat by Leitrim was a serious blow to the Ernesiders, losing as they did 11 points to 10 despite having a 7 points to 1 advantage at the interval.
Usually reliable sources,close to the team remain convinced that several experienced players have indicated a willingness to return to the squad but only if O’Neill is NOT in charge.
One of the main causes for concern is believed to be the absence of any medical professionals at training - indeed it is suggested that this is a major cause of concern especially since one of the squad was seemingly knocked unconscious in training recently.
Currently only Kilkenny and London are below the Fermanagh men in the League table.
This situation could also pose problems for the GPA and the GAA if it is not quickly resolved within the County.
It could prove to the first test for the GAA’s recent recognition protocol agreement with the GPA. One section of that agreement allows for the the establishment of a ‘disputes resolution service’ which in certain circumstances could be used to resolve county disputes.
As the Championship season will soon be with us this is one situation that Fermanagh will aim to resolve quickly.