TRY to pick the positives out of this and it wouldn’t be long before you’re down to the fact that the pitch was in superb nick and the sun shone.
Optimists would say that London are two losses out of two games from the league having played the two best sides in Division Four. They may have a point: Limerick were last season’s All-Ireland quarter-finalists and Fermanagh’s players were always going to up their productivity once the greatest footballer of the modern era signed up as their supervisor.
Yet, where last week’s defeat was qualified by London having been down to 14 men for much of the game on Shannonside, this Sunday gone had no such mitigating factor.
On their first home appearance of the year, with an FBD League campaign in the bank, London were beaten out the gate. To put it any milder is to patronise the Exiles.
Eight months ago, they beat Fermanagh in the Championship by six points. They lost by 12 here, a swing of 18 points, 2.25 a month if you’re into stats.
All that’s said and written about London’s progress overlooks the fact that everybody else is making progress too; the GAA world isn’t standing still admiring the efforts of the boys across the water. The world is spinning and is no longer interested in last summer.
Unless they are to get to the pace of the new season, London risk relinquishing the ground they’ve worked so hard to make.
A certain sluggishness is evident, manifest in the 17 minutes it took the home side to register a score in the first half and the 19 required to break their duck in the second.
In the meantime, Fermanagh, sharp and full of purpose, had raced into a lead of 0-5 to nothing and, after the break, 1-12 to 0-5 after the score had been 0-5 to 1-9 at half-time.
Where the Ernesiders moved the ball crisply before hitting dangerman Seamus Quigley at full-forward, London laboured and displayed little in the way of thought or imagination. Time and again the ball was carried into contact in the congested centre of the field. Runners had few options and were picked off by energetic, aggressive defenders.
Yet, often London’s inside attack were two-on-two against the Fermanagh defence. An early angled ball would at least have given the visiting full-back line something to think about.
And, more than once, ball-carriers in white failed to look up and spot a run from a colleague in space on the other side of the pitch.
Another concern for London is their lack of a clinical nature. Nine points are unlikely to win a game. 12 wides, and a chance-conversion rate of less than 50 per cent is likely to go a long way to ensuring that you lose.
Early in the second half, London got a foothold at centrefield and applied some pressure on the Fermanagh defence. However, five wides in the first 10 minutes of the half scuppered any chance of a comeback because, at the other end, Fermanagh kept the scoreboard moving through the likes of Paul Ward, Shane Lyons and the ever-threatening Quigley.
London’s best spell was in the second quarter. After failing to register in the first 17 minutes, they scored four points in six minutes, on target were Seamus Hannon, Mark Gottsche (twice) and Eoin O’Neill. This narrowed the gap to 0-6 to 0-4 and showed that London do have a higher gear.
Finding that gear and staying in it for prolonged periods of the game is the problem. Their momentum was broken by a pair of points from Eoin Donnelly and Barry Mulrone in the 26th and 31st minutes. And two minutes before the break Ward was taken down by Sean McVeigh in the large square. Quigley sent Declan Traynor the wrong way with the penalty.
A seven-point deficit was unlikely to be recovered. London toiled in the second half but the Ulster side were always a comfortable few lengths ahead of the chasers. A sublime goal from Ryan Keenan in the 67th minute gave the scoreboard a stark appearance.
Best for London were Mark Gottsche, who contributed two points – one a thumping drive after a run through midfield – Seamus Hannon and Sean McVeigh, who battled well despite giving away the penalty.
Fermanagh, though, were moving at a different speed all over the field. Who knows, perhaps an early-season slap like the one administered on Sunday was required. There’s been a lot of talk around this London team – though not from the players and management, to be fair – that they would win more League games than they’d lose and then beat emigration-decimated Leitrim in the summer. This was seen in some optimistic quarters as a given; some kind of natural progression or rite of passage.
Now that fantasy has been laid bare. It’ll take more than a plane-load or two of footballers touching down at Heathrow to keep things moving in the right direction for London. A far higher level of performance than this is required to match – let alone build on – the achievements of last season.
London: D Traynor; S Hannon, S Bradshaw, D McGreevy; T Gaughan, S Mulligan, J Scanlon; S McVeigh, A Raftery; C McCallion, S Kelly, M Mullins; P McGoldrick, M Gottsche, E O’Neill. Subs: F McVey for Mullins (31), N Burke for Gaughan (HT), F Niblock for McGoldrick (HT), E Mageegan for Raftery (45), L Colfer for O’Neill (62).
Fermanagh: R Gallagher; N Bogue, B Owens, J Woods; C Quigley, R McCluskey, B Mulrone; E Donnelly, J Sherry; D Keenan, S Lyons, T Corrigan; P Ward, Seamus Quigley, Sean Quigley. Subs: M Little for Sean Quigley (HT), R Keenan for Corrigan (52), M Jones for Woods (60), P Cosgrove for Bogue (69), B Maguire for Ward (69).
SCORERS: London: Gottsche, O’Neill (2f), Kelly 0-2 each, Hannon, McVeigh, McVey 0-1 each.
Fermanagh: Seamus Quigley 1-5 (1-0 pen, 1 ’45, 1f), Keenan 1-0, Ward (1 free), C Quigley, Mulrone 0-2 each, Sean Quigley, Corrigan, Donnelly, Lyons 0-1 each.
Referee: Padraig O’Sullivan (Kerry)