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McIver makes strong case for defence

By JOHN CAMPBELL

Derry manager Brian McIver takes what he believes are two major plus-factors into Saturday’s vital All-Ireland football qualifier round two tie against Down at Celtic Park.

In earning the right to square up to James McCartan’s side for the second time in a month having succumbed to them in the Ulster Championship semi-final, the Oak Leaf side trimmed Sligo’s sails in a clinical 0-15 to 0-8 victory at Owenbeg last Saturday.

And it was in this game McIver gleaned further knowledge that his team might just after all possess the man-power, technique and application to mount a sustained journey through the qualifiers.

Four 19-year olds — Ryan Bell, Declan Brown, Conor McAtamney and Ciaran McFaul — came through the game with flying colours while just as important in McIver’s eyes, P J McCloskey, Sean Leo McGoldrick and Dermot McBride emerged with no ill-effects having been reinstated in the side following lay-offs because of injuries.

It’s hardly surprising that McIver’s appetite for a renewal of rivalry with Down has now been considerably whetted, his zeal for a second qualifier victory within a week having also been bolstered by Lee Kennedy’s impeccable performance in attack against the Yeats county when he scored four points from play and Chrissy McKaigue’s confirmation that he is perhaps the best full-back in the province on current form.

“The opening match in the qualifiers is always a nervous occasion and you just want to get the game over with a win if you can,” admits McIver.

 “You are still hurting from your provincial championship exit and getting back on track is all-important. Against Sligo we played well as a team although we still have work to do of course while we had some fine individual performances into the bargain.”

Indeed the personal contributions were such that McIver could find himself rather spoiled for choice when he sits down tonight to finalise his line-up to face Down.

“This is a huge match for us,” he insists, “We were wiped out at midfield in the second-half by Down last month. They were able to come through much too easily and get scores so we must tighten up.”

Eoin Bradley’s thirst for action prompted the manager to fire him in as a substitute against Sligo but Kennedy’s sublime display would suggest that he will again form the equivalent of a one-man forward line against Down although with able support from Enda Lynn, Bell and McFaul.

Bell of course can help to boost the midfield if necessary although Patsy Bradley and P J McCloskey are a tried and trusted pairing there who will not be fazed at confronting Kevin McKernan and Kalum King.

McKernan scored four points in last month’s game but is unlikely to be afforded so much time and space this time while Donal O’Hare and Mark Poland may be more effectively shackled by the Derry rearguard.

“We have taken lessons from that game last month,” states McIver.

“But Down too will have derived tremendous heart from their display against Donegal and will be very much up for battle.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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