Derry believe it can be third time lucky
DERRY may look to their third-choice captain to pilot them into Division One of the Allianz Football League.
With skipper Mark Lynch likely to be out for another month because of a hand injury and his deputy Dermot McBride having suffered a recurrence of an injury that troubled him last year, Oak Leaf manager Brian McIver will turn to battle-hardened midfielder Patsy Bradley to lead from the front against already-promoted Westmeath next Sunday.
Bradley, whose partnership with P J McCloskey in the central area has underscored Derry's progress in Division Two, stepped into the leadership breach against Louth last weekend when two valuable points were garnered in Drogheda.
Now Derry only require a draw against Westmeath and they will find themselves in Division One.
Even should the joint third-placed sides Laois and Galway beat Wexford and Armagh respectively, McIver's men should still make the quantum leap into the top bracket on scoring difference.
Derry lead their chief pursuers on this front (+23 pts) with Laois on +13 and Galway on +1 and given that they will have home advantage against Westmeath it seems safe to assume that Derry will tot up a healthy score here particularly given the form that James Kielt and Raymond Wilkinson are showing.
It's all in rather sharp contrast to last year when the unavailability of key players because of injuries meant that Derry oscillated between promotion and relegation before eventually ensuring their safety in the closing phase of the competition.
This term, a more focussed, committed approach nurtured by McIver and enthusiastically endorsed by the players has seen Derry lose just once in six outings and that was in their opening game against Galway in which they never quite recovered from an indifferent start.
While promotion is very much the prime target for Derry right now, a fully-fit squad for the Ulster Championship is also a priority for McIver. He is particularly anxious to see experienced duo Lynch and McBride restored to his defence for the showdown with Down at Celtic Park on June 2.
And there could be an ironic twist to this particular contest.
With Derry looking odds-on to make it into Division One and Down perceived as strong candidates to make the drop from the elite bracket, it looks as if one will replace the other.
This will surely add a further ration of spice to a championship tie that will evoke memories of high-quality games in the competition between the counties in the past.