Derry manager Brian McIver praises O'Fiaich benefits
Derry manager Brian McIver never thought that an eleventh-hour out of season tournament would provide him with an additional catalyst for success going into the new season.
But the Oak Leaf county's campaign in the O'Fiaich Cup, during which they remained undefeated in four games, not only delivered a welcome piece of pre-Christmas silverware, but served to convince McIver that he might after all have additional options in key areas.
Throughout 2012, Derry were plagued by a raft of injuries to their midfield candidates and when the two Bradley brothers, Paddy and Eoin, both suffered cruciate ligament injuries the selection choices facing the then-manager John Brennan became acutely limited.
Earlier this year, it looked as if Derry might again be stricken by an injury jinx when first Dermot McBride and then PJ McCloskey were ruled out.
McIver managed to steady his ship but an Ulster championship loss at home to Down and a rather surprising All-Ireland qualifier setback at the hands of Cavan impacted heavily on morale.
Today, though, McIver is cushioned by what he views as a comforting bonus as he contemplates his strategy for the Power NI Dr McKenna Cup and the Allianz League.
No fewer than six players – Emmet Bradley, Niall Holly, Fergal Doherty, Patsy Bradley, Mark Lynch and Peter Cassidy – saw action at midfield during the O'Fiaich Cup.
When it is considered that Ballinderry pair James Conway and Ryan Bell are certain to be pitched into the mix further down the line, it can be seen that McIver has abundant midfield riches.
Up front, too, competition for places has clearly been stepped up even before the new season has dawned.
James Kielt, Enda Lynn, Benny Heron, Cailean O'Boyle and Declan Mullan are among those who have served notice that they are approaching concert pitch while others such as Ciaran McFaul, Emmet McGuckin, Niall McFeely, Ciaran McGoldrick and Aaron Kerrigan will continue to knock on the selection door.
McIver, very conscious that Derry have experienced false dawns in recent years and aware that his side face a huge test now that they will be confronting the elite sides in Division One of the league, believes that the O'Fiaich Cup served "a very useful purpose" in his planned build-up to the 2014 campaign.
"We have four good games under our belts now and we can look forward to at least three in the McKenna Cup," points out McIver.
"That gives us terrific preparation for the league.
"The O'Fiaich Cup proved a great competition for allowing us to have a look at all the young players that we wanted to see at this stage of the year. It certainly served a very useful purpose from our perspective."
McIver, though, is acutely aware of the pitfalls as he bids to build on Derry's league progress of this year and targets a better championship return.
"We had four players with serious cruciate ligament injuries over the past year and that's a big handicap by any standards," stresses McIver.
"These boys are just on their way back and they include PJ McCloskey while we also have the Ballinderry contingent not available to us at the minute.
"But the other side of the matter at county level is that is someone is not there then it is an opportunity for another player to step up to the mark and play.
"That's why we have been so glad to have looked at so many players over the course of the four games we have had this month."
Derry are bracketed with Monaghan, Fermanagh and St Mary's in Section B of the McKenna Cup and will open their campaign for glory against Monaghan in Clones on January 5.
"That's an attractive fixture because Monaghan are the reigning Ulster champions and I'm sure they will be keen to put their best foot forward again at the start of 2014," adds McIver.