Derry boosted as big names return
The Derry Club Championship has not been without unbelievable drama this year, but county manager Brian McIver has been hugely encouraged by some players who are on the road back from serious injury.
It may have escaped the attentions of many, but Derry have been hit in recent times by no less than four cruciate ligament injuries, denying them serious leadership and playing personnel in McIver's first two seasons.
In one of his first games in charge of Derry for example, McIver was able to play PJ McCloskey who had made considerable progress since recovering from previous injuries.
In that McKenna Cup fixture against Tyrone, the Banagher man hit four points in a man-of-the-match performance.
He later injured his cruciate in a qualifying game against Down in 2013, but made a return to club colours in the extra-time win over Ballinascreen this week.
Barry McGoldrick got 20 minutes under his belt as a black card replacement for his brother Sean Leo in Coleraine's loss to Ballinderry, a game that also featured Raymond Wilkinson, who injured his cruciate in Derry's Division Two league final win over Westmeath in 2013.
Daniel Heavron of Magherafelt has also made progress and played a good deal for his club this season as McIver looks forward to a less injury-blighted 2015.
"The cruciate is a brutal injury and different people respond to it in different ways and all operations are in some ways similar, but equally some people recover from it very quickly," McIver said.
"Others, it takes quite a while and sometimes the surgeon has to go back in again to do what they call a 'clean-up'.
"It's still a major, major injury and you feel for anybody in sport that picks it up.
"As Barry McGoldrick said himself afterwards, it is going to take him a wee while to get back in terms of his match fitness and practice and so on. But it's good to have him back out on the pitch."
The rest of the GAA world may be looking towards All-Ireland football semi-finals, but managers all over the country are getting geared up for next year.
This week Fermanagh manager Pete McGrath held trials to see if he can unearth new players.
Derry began early last year, having taken part in and winning the resurrected O'Fiaich Cup, played in the depths of November and December between the Oak Leafers, Armagh, Louth and Down.
McIver would be keen to defend the title, saying: "It was a good competition last year in terms of getting a look at lads that you had brought into the panel for the first time and giving them an opportunity to play at county level and we used it in that way, as did all the teams, which was great."
A troupe of new players came through for Derry last season off the back of their performances in that tournament, among them Oisin Duffy, Michael McShane, Karl McKaigue and Aaron Kerrigan.
McIver also said he would wish to address the issue of overloading on fixtures, given how the teams left in the All-Ireland are those that had almost exclusive access to their players this season.
"It proved last year to be a big factor," said McIver, who lost a raft of players between the Ulster Championship first round loss to Donegal and round one of the qualifiers against Longford.
"The whole schedule and the fixture planning for club and county hasn't been thoroughly addressed," he continued.
"I do think further down the line that it is going to have to be much better tackled to ensure there is a set calendar out there.
"That will mean that clubs have access to county players equally as counties can have the club players when they really need them."