Ulster Football Championship: Fermanagh set to be minus Che Cullen in Antrim game

Fermanagh's Che Cullen is challenged by Cavan's David Givney during the Football League game in March
Che Cullen (right) sustained a broken thumb a couple of weeks ago

Fermanagh look likely to be without full-back Che Cullen in their Ulster SFC opener against Antrim on 15 May but Eoin Donnelly is expected to be fit.

Manager Pete McGrath told BBC Sport NI that Cullen's broken thumb looks "problematic" for the Ulster preliminary round game in Enniskillen.

However, McGrath is confident that inspirational midfielder Donnelly will line out against the Saffrons.

Donnelly is "recovering well" from a hamstring injury sustained 11 days ago.

"We would be very confident that Eoin will make the game against Antrim," said McGrath at Wednesday night's Ulster Championship launch in Armagh.

"He damaged his hamstring in training but thankfully not too severely."

Fermanagh's Eoin Donnelly battles with Donegal's Michael Murphy in this year's McKenna Cup
Eoin Donnelly (left) missed Fermanagh's Ulster win over Antrim last year

Donnelly 'key to how Fermanagh play'

The Erne men earned a comfortable 1-13 to 0-8 victory over the Saffrons in last year's Ulster quarter-finals despite being without Donnelly, who was ruled out by a hand injury.

However, McGrath is keen to have Donnelly available as the counties prepare for their third Ulster Championship meeting in as many years.

"Eoin is key to how we play," admitted McGrath.

"He had a really, really top-rate league campaign for us. He is a very potent leader on the field and leads by example.

"His ability to win high ball, his mobility on the ball, his ability to carry the ball into opposition territory, all makes him key to how we play."

After defeating Antrim a year ago, Fermanagh were beaten 1-20 to 0-13 by eventual Anglo Celt Cup winners Monaghan in the Ulster semi-final but the Erne County regrouped to produce a thrilling qualifiers run which was eventually ended by Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

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Ulster title 'a legitimate aspiration' - McGrath

Matching those heroics looks a tall order for Fermanagh this year but McGrath insists his team are an improved outfit heading into the campaign after they impressively retained their Division Two league status in the Spring.

"I think going into the championship this year, we are actually better prepared than we were last year after we had played in Division Three.

"We had a seven-match campaign of tough games with high physicality and high intensity and the standard was a lot higher than in Division Three last year.

"Staying in Division Two was very important to us. We actually finished fourth in the division if you look at the final table.

"We were more than happy with that so a lack of confidence is not going to be an issue for us."

While McGrath is at pains to emphasise his respect for an Antrim side that had little difficulty in navigating their way out of Division Four during the Spring, the Fermanagh boss insists that aiming for the Erne County's first ever Ulster senior title is a "legitimate aspiration" this summer.

"We are one of the teams in Ulster that I think, should have, and have the right to have legitimate aspiration towards winning an Ulster title.

"I firmly believe Fermanagh have that capability. Now having said that, probably every other team in the province will feel the same and they are perfectly entitled and right to do that."

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