Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

Derry view league as next step towards biggest prize of all

Skipper Mark Lynch's scoring exploits have highlighted Derry's surge into the league final against Dublin
Skipper Mark Lynch's scoring exploits have highlighted Derry's surge into the league final against Dublin

Far from planning elaborate celebrations should his team win Sunday's Allianz Football League final against Dublin, Derry manager Brian McIver simply views the Croke Park showdown as another stepping-stone in their ongoing development.

His team may have tip-toed from Division Two into the top bracket last year and now find themselves suddenly catapulted into the national spotlight but McIver's feet and those of his players remain firmly rooted to the ground.

And a cursory glance at more recent statistics embracing the major competitions offer perhaps the best explanation as to just why reality rather than rampant ambition prevails within the Oak Leaf camp.

Derry won the league crown three times in the 90's (1992, '95 and '96) and twice in the Noughties (2000 and 2008) but since landing their only All-Ireland title to date in 1993, the county has lifted the Ulster title just once (1998).

This is viewed as the most sobering statistic in the Derry portfolio and as such largely governs McIver's thinking in relation to the immediate future.

Indeed, Derry know better than most other counties that league triumphs do not necessarily guarantee a successful summer yet while the massive Ulster Championship clash with Donegal on May 25 looms large in everyone's thinking, Sunday's confrontation with the high-flying Dubs is seen as a golden opportunity to further fine-tune strategy and hone spirit.

Not that Derry will be entering Croke Park burdened by any semblance of an inferiority complex, of course.

Their confident surge through the league underpinned the team's fluency and belief to such an extent that manager McIver can now reveal that his players relish the prospect of meeting Dublin rather than Cork.

"This team is a work in progress. We are delighted to get back into Croke Park. There's no such thing as peaking too early. The boys are playing great football at the minute and they know that there's a mighty game coming up for them at Celtic Park against Donegal next month but for now our whole focus is on Dublin whom we're delighted to be facing," states McIver.

The manner in which they overcame Mayo in their semi-final with 14 men following Fergal Doherty's 23rd minute dismissal has clearly fortified Derry's morale to such an extent that they feel they will be able to deal with the unexpected against Dublin.

Full-back Chrissy McKaigue perhaps best encapsulates the team's approach when he says: "We don't know if we will start well or if Dublin will be first out of the blocks. We will just have to be prepared for every eventuality. We have belief in our own ability but we know we are not the finished article."

It's this pragmatism that underpins Derry's whole philosophy that is constantly preached by the diligent McIver who has totally transformed the county's fortunes.

"Whatever happens down the line, let's say we have enough on our hands with Dublin. They will really test our character," insists McIver.

He has shown faith in his line-up which means that players who only a relatively short time ago were unknowns – Thomas Mallon, Oisin Duffy, Kevin Johnson and Ciaran McFaul – will be parading their skills at Croke Park yet again.

And it means too that skipper Mark Lynch can stride the biggest stage of all with the flamboyance, artistry and finishing power that now make him one of the truly outstanding players in the country.

Lob in the fact that Gerard O'Kane, Chrissy McKaigue and Dermot McBride encompass the experience that will enable them to cope with the combined threat of Eoghan O'Gara, Diarmuid Connolly and Bernard Brogan and it can be seen that Derry are suitably primed for battle.

McIver is delighted to have Fergal Doherty back alongside the battle-hardened Patsy Bradley at midfield, aware that their ball-winning capacity can trigger scoring chances which Emmett McGuckin, Cailean O'Boyle and Benny Heron can turn to good account.

"Obviously players like our skipper Mark Lynch have been getting a lot of scores recently but they would be the first to recognise that the chances are created from further out the field. We would hope that our strategy will continue to sustain us this time out," adds McIver.

Derry: T Mallon; O Duffy, C McKaigue, D McBride; K Johnson, G O'Kane, A McAlynn; F Doherty, P Bradley; E Lynn, M Lynch, C McFaul; B Heron, E McGuckin, C O'Boyle.

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