Derry manager Brian McIver's faith in new blood paying off
Derry manager Brian McIver is very much his own man – and that's one of the reasons why his side is now preparing to meet Dublin in the Allianz Football League final on Sunday week.
During the course of the league campaign, McIver repeatedly tweaked his line-up, often surprising officials and supporters with his selections.
But the faith he has shown in particular in three newcomers to his defence – Thomas Mallon, Oisin Duffy and Kevin Johnston –has been vindicated to such an extent that not only should they now be automatic choices for the league decider, but they will be among the first names entered on the team sheet for the Ulster championship quarter-final against neighbours Donegal next month.
Goalkeeper Mallon distinguished himself with three magnificent saves in Sunday's semi-final defeat of Mayo, while Duffy underlined his man-marking ability with Johnston capping a fine display with the second-half goal that helped to cement Derry's victory.
McIver may have initially raised eyebrows when he kept faith with these players to the exclusion of other better-known squad members but his unshakeable belief in their ability is proving well-founded.
Mallon, Duffy and Johnston have helped to tighten up a Derry defence that had been conceding rather too much prior to the current league campaign and now the trio look set for extended recognition within the side.
Johnston's ability to drive forward from wing-back ensured that Mayo were kept on the back foot in the closing phase of last Sunday's game and it was a measure of Derry's desire to continually take the game to Mayo that his goal was set up by his wing-back partner Sean Leo McGoldrick.
Manager McIver was fulsome in his praise for his players' efforts but made it clear that he was directing special plaudits to his newer recruits and to those who came in from the bench to help the Oak Leaf side over the line.
"Mallon, Duffy and Johnston are in the side very much on merit. They certainly played their part on Sunday as did every one of the other players who represented Derry. I had said in advance of the game that I wanted us to turn in a better performance than we did in last year's Division Two final against Westmeath and we did precisely that," observes McIver.
"If boys are in a county panel, then they deserve to get into the team although of course a manager can only start 15 players.
"Still, it's always comforting to know that you have strength in depth.
"We now have our sights set on this league final against Dublin who looked very impressive in beating Cork on Sunday and will be cast in the role of favourites. After all, they are the holders of the title and have shown that they are obviously very keen to retain it come what may."