Derry bounce back from early struggles as glory hunt gathers pace
When Derry were on the receiving end of an unmerciful 4-31 to 0-11 drubbing from Kerry in the earlier stages of the Christy Ring Cup, their prospects of making any headway in the competition looked not so much dim as non-existent.
Yet manager Ger Rogan never lost faith in his players, attributing their inept performance against the Kingdom as an occasion on which "anything which could have gone wrong did go wrong."
Since then Derry have mounted a rehabilitation process which gained momentum when they edged out their great Ulster rivals Down by one point, 2-16 to 3-12, to re-float their ambitions in the competition.
The Oak Leaf side will confront Kildare in the quarter-finals today at Owenbeg where manager Rogan is looking for another helping of the character, courage and skill that dethroned current holders Down.
"I was very disappointed with what happened against Kerry but a lot of things were not right," admits Rogan.
"Having said that we have learned from the performance and regained our self-belief.
"We are going in against a Kildare side that had two very stiff games against Wicklow and another against Kerry lately and while some might say that these may have drained their stamina, I believe that they could actually benefit from them."
It was a late point from Kevin Hinphey that gave Derry their victory over Down and along with his brother Kevin and a posse of other experienced players including Ruairi Convery, Liam Hinphey, Oisin McCloskey and Paul Cleary he will be in the vanguard of the team's bid to make it into the semi-finals.
Kildare fought to a stalemate after extra-time in an exciting battle with Wicklow in their drawn contest and the two sides went to the wire in the replay as well.
It was another high-scoring encounter as Kildare survived a Wicklow onslaught in the first-half and once again Gerry Keegan was the star as he bagged what proved to be the all-important winning goal in the final moments of the first-half.
Kildare will look to the young Celbridge star and free-taker Paul Divilly to spearhead their attack again today as they focus on gaining revenge for defeat at the hands of the Kerry men in last season's Christy Ring semi-final.
On that occasion Kerry dispatched the Lilywhites in a scrappy game by 1-14 to 0-11.
More recently the teams met in Division 2A of the league when Kerry were far too strong on the day, winning by 2-24 to 0-13.
Kildare manager Brian Lawlor insists his side are still on a learning curve in the second tier of the All-Ireland series.
"We stepped it up big-time for our first match against Wicklow, the second day against Wicklow we stepped it up again and did so again against Kerry so the curve is going the right way with regards to performances," points out Lawlor.
"Now we must face Derry and if we win we play Meath so that's the path ahead of us. There's no avoiding the Christy Ring format of playing week in, week out."
Derry: D McDermott; M Warnock, C Quinn, E McGuckin; C McQuillan, L Hinphey, K Hinphey; O McCloskey, P Cleary; B Og McGilligan, P McCloskey, A Kelly; S Farren, R Convery, B Rogers.