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Derry can stand firm to deny the Red Hands: McGuckin

 

By John Campbell

In their first five matches of this season's Allianz Football League Division Two, Derry conceded no fewer than 11 goals, yet in their last two against Cork and Fermanagh they managed to keep clean sheets.

It is a statistic that certainly provides some food for thought for manager Damian Barton and his assistant Brian McGuckin going into the forthcoming Ulster Championship meeting with Tyrone.

It is no coincidence, though, that the Oak Leaf defence was in a rather more mean mood in the closing stages of the league.

The return of Slaughtneil duo Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue to form the central spine of the back division against Peter McGrath's men and the Leesiders had much to do with the opposition being denied net gains, while the inclusion of Karl McKaigue at corner back against Fermanagh proved an added bonus.

Assistant manager McGuckin revealed earlier in the year that Derry had no qualms about pitching a raft of new faces into the side, but the prospect of facing a lively Tyrone forward division in a full-blooded Championship match will have McGuckin and team boss Damian Barton leaning even more heavily on their experienced corps.

"There is no doubt that the lack of experience within our defence has been highlighted," admitted McGuckin.

"But that's understandable. Most of these players are Under-21s, they were being exposed to quality forward lines and they did not cope too badly, except that we maybe gave away goals at crucial stages of games.

"Obviously there is going to be a feeling of déjà vu in relation to our game against Tyrone as we met in the Championship last year as well but I believe that we will be ready for them this time."

McGuckin's bullish approach not only stems from the greater cohesion and organisation within the Derry defence but also from the return to top form of the dangerous Daniel Heavron, the experience that Mark Lynch, Benny Heron, Enda Lynn and James Kielt in particular will bring to the attack and what McGuckin believes is a new-found spirit within the Oak Leafers squad.

"I think that if we get the team out that we have in mind, and assuming we play to our potential, then we won't be too far away," insisted Tyrone native McGuckin.

"We know that Mickey Harte loves to win every match in which his side is involved, but you can take it that even though his side lost their last three games in the league this will not be weighing too heavily on his mind.

"Their sole focus this year, and I have no doubt about this, will be to try and retain the Ulster title and give the All-Ireland a real rattle.

"Irrespective of recent results, I believe Tyrone are on a journey in the hope that it will take them to a point where they will still be playing Championship football in August and September."

Derry's slump into Division Three in what was a fascinating climax to the Allianz League came as a shock to the system, but McGuckin is convinced that, although two divisions now separate the sides, his Oak Leaf outfit can still discomfit the Red Hands in what will without doubt be the biggest game of the year to date in the province.

"I honestly and truthfully believe that we have the capacity to beat Tyrone and that's not being bombastic in the slightest," added McGuckin.

"I know what a full-strength Derry side would be capable of on any given day and I sincerely hope that they can deliver the goods in this one at Celtic Park."

Belfast Telegraph

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