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Derry boss Cassidy gets ready for ‘the real thing’

By John Campbell

Even the absence of two of Ulster’s outstanding forwards of the past decade from the respective starting line-ups is unlikely to detract from the appeal of the eagerly-awaited Derry v Tyrone National Football League opener at Celtic Park on Saturday (7.30pm).

While the host side cling to the hope that they may yet be able to employ heel injury victim Paddy Bradley in some capacity perhaps in the closing stages of the contest, Tyrone are resigned to being without the mercurial Stephen O’Neill not just for this game but for the duration of the competition.

Bradley’s heel problem has been a source of concern to Derry manager Damian Cassidy of late but this pales in comparison to the massive headache planted in the lap of Tyrone manager Mickey Harte following O’Neill’s dislocated elbow sustained against Donegal in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup final.

The combined experience of the two players is such that their teams’ prospects of sustaining a charge in pursuit of the league title are now deemed to have receded somewhat although the respective managers are refusing to wallow in despondency.

Derry boss Cassidy is adamant that the National League is “the real thing” now that the preliminary sparring in the McKenna Cup is over.

“You have to get off the mark quickly in the league and obviously to have to start a game against a team like Tyrone without Paddy Bradley does not help. His heel problem has only been responding slowly to treatment but maybe we will get a little game-time from him. The National League is the real thing and we will see how things go,” says Cassidy.

Harte, meanwhile, acknowledges that the newcomers in his attack face the challenge of compensating for the absence of O’Neill’s finishing skills as well as the scoring power of Owen Mulligan and Sean Cavanagh as they prepare to do battle with an Oak Leaf defence from which experienced pair Kevin McGuckin and Niall McCusker will still be missing.

“The young players in our side have been getting good competitive action in the McKenna Cup but now they will have to take another step up. There is a lot of hard work involved in playing in the National League. These players are on a learning curve and we have to be ready for big challenges,” states Harte.

Paddy Bradley’s brother Eoin is expected to make a full recovery from a leg strain and take his place while James Kielt, Raymond Wilkinson and Andrew McCartney may also be included in the Oak Leaf attack. And Derry may well give a league baptism to goalkeeper Marty Dunne.

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