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Derry fired up for the visits of big guns

By John Campbell

Derry County Board chairman John Keenan can't wait for the Allianz Football League to get under way.

His county may have won the O'Fiaich Cup and must now fulfill their Power NI Dr McKenna Cup itinerary in January but Keenan believes that the league could showcase Derry football in the best possible light.

With hugely attractive home games lined up against elite sides such as Tyrone, Dublin and Mayo, Keenan is not only anticipating that Brian McIver's side will prove themselves "more than worthy" of their new-found Division One status but will help draw bigger crowds.

It is an open secret that Derry followers tend to be lukewarm on occasions in their backing for the team with many even reluctant to travel from the south of the county to matches at Celtic Park.

But Keenan is urging a show of unity as the Oak Leaf side prepares to build on the progress that was made this year when promotion was gained from Division Two.

"Winning the O'Fiaich Cup was a very welcome pre-season bonus for us and as far as the league is concerned, I say bring it on," enthuses Keenan.

"We are ready for action and the fact that we will be hosting some of the really top sides including All-Ireland champions Dublin really adds to the appeal of the competition from our perspective.

"I would hope that our fans will get behind the team from the outset," he says.

Manager McIver hopes to have an even bigger choice of players at his disposal now that Fergal Doherty, Niall Holly, Patsy Bradley, Dermot McBride and Benny Heron are among those who are already showing a renewed appetite for county action.

"The O'Fiaich Cup not only provided our manager with the chance to bring in some new young players but it also allowed our team to get an introduction to the use of the black card," points out Keenan.

"It proved a great build-up for our league games in particular.

"We then have an opening game in the Ulster Championship against Donegal and it doesn't get any better than that.

"Hopefully we will peak at the right time and enjoy a little bit better fortune than we did this year," he adds.

Meanwhile, Hugh McAleer, chairman of Club Tyrone, the fund-raising arm of the GAA in the O'Neill County, has hailed 2013 as being "a good, good year".

Club Tyrone broke all its previous records by donating a colossal £444,000 to the county board this year.

"On and off the field it was a good, good year for Tyrone GAA," says McAleer who is managing director of a large Omagh accountancy practice.

"Our county teams did well, our clubs continue to excel, our Garvaghey centre was completed and opened and on top of it all our people rowed in with their breathtaking contribution of £444,000.

"It's all the more humbling for us when we set that contribution in the context of the difficult economic times that so many Tyrone people and communities continue to face."

County board chairman Ciaran McLaughlin lauds the contribution of Club Tyrone.

"The 'GAA job' is never finished," maintains McLaughlin.

"There are always new hills to climb. But the outstanding support from our Club Tyrone people and Garvaghey Patrons just makes so many more things possible," he adds.

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