Absence makes the heart grow fonder — and Conleith Gilligan is proving this in Derry’s colours right now.
The Ballinderry clubman has been an absentee for the last two years but new manager John Brennan moved quickly to restore him to the squad when he was appointed.
Gilligan has responded by showing impressive form in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup wins over Cavan and Queen’s in which Derry have scored a total of 3-27.
This means that because of the way in which scoring averages apply they could still lose to Monaghan tomorrow at Celtic Park but secure a semi-final place nonetheless.
Brennan has no intention of seeing his team’s impressive CV to date besmirched, though.
“Derry got into a losing habit in the past and now I want them to keep this winning habit. Victory over Monaghan would assure us of a semi-final place but it’s the National League on which we are really focused,” he points out.
With Gilligan as playmaker — his clever distribution is at the very heart of Derry’s attacking blueprint — and veteran Paddy Bradley appearing to have regained his sparkle, the Derry attack carries more bite right now.
In recent times, the scoring input from the half-forward division has not been all that it might have been but against Queen’s on Wednesday Declan Mullan (0-4), Sean Leo McGoldrick (1-2) and Mark Lynch (0-1) pilfered a total of 1-7 to emphasise that the unit is rather more potent now.
Derry players have every right to remain on their toes too as Charlie Kielt, Joe O’Kane, James Kielt, Joe Diver, Emmet McGuckin and Corlus McWilliams are among other players coveting places in the side.
Monaghan have played just one match to date, suffering a defeat to Queen’s that underlined the amount of work which manager Eamon McEnaney has to do to come up with a more cohesive outfit.
Paul Finlay is among the limited number of old hands still on duty but the plethora of new faces will face a stiff examination against the fluent Oak Leaf outfit who should negotiate a safe passage through to the semi-finals.