Derry may be unbeaten this year but any notion that the team now ‘picks itself’ has been forcibly dispelled by manager John Brennan.
With his side due to meet Kieran McGeeney’s equally buoyant Kildare on Sunday in an important Allianz Football League Division Two encounter, Brennan has already made it clear that competition for places is rapidly approaching the level he had envisaged at the outset of the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup competition.
“I said then that we had some players injured, others playing with their universities and Eoin Bradley suspended but that I hoped our squad would gradually be boosted with the passage of time.
“We are now getting there in this connection and the timing could not be better as we have major challenges on our radar beginning with this clash with Kildare,” says Brennan.
Since succeeding Damian Cassidy, Brennan has reiterated more than once his desire to see Derry acquire what he describes as “a winning mentality”.
And while he is satisfied that it has been a case of so far so good, he stresses that from next Sunday onwards the pressure will be intensified.
“Our aim is to get back into Division One and we need points in the bag to achieve this.
While we were happy to beat Tyrone in our opening game we know that at home Kildare are invariably very difficult opponents,” insists Brennan.
In the past Derry have found St Conleth’s Park, Newbridge a somewhat hostile atmosphere and that’s why Brennan will be looking to his more experienced players to set the tone for Sunday’s tie.
Yet he is not ruling the strong claims for selection that players such as Charlie Kielt, Caolan O’Boyle, Emmett McGuckin, Niall Holly, James Kielt and Eoin Bradley currently possess.
O’Boyle and McGuckin in particular thrust themselves firmly into Brennan’s thinking when they impressed as substitutes against Tyrone while Holly made an impact at midfield where James Conway and P J McCloskey, while epitomising whole-hearted industry, are not blessed with abundant pace.
With Eoin Bradley having completed the 24-week ban imposed on him last summer following an incident at the end of the Glenullin v Ballinderry championship match, Brennan can now turn to a player whom many believe has been the county’s best forward for the past two years.
But in his absence from the attack, the half-forward line of Declan Mullan, Sean Leo McGoldrick and Mark Lynch has blossomed while Bradley’s brother Paddy is currently playing some vintage football alongside the rejuvenated Conleith Gilligan and Ciaran McGoldrick in the inside line.
All of which leaves manager Brennan with a rather stronger hand going into Sunday’s match against a side that has already taken delivery of the O’Byrne Cup.
“Obviously it’s encouraging that we have these guys back in contention and I know they are chomping at the bit for action.
“But I can only start with fifteen players,” points out Brennan, a clear indication that he will avail of the resources on his substitutes’ bench come Sunday.
His opposite number McGeeney will have Emmet Bolton to anchor his defence even though he received two yellow cards against Antrim while James Kavanagh, Eamon Callaghan and John Doyle are expected to be key figures in attack.
McGeeney recently complained that there is a lack of uniformity in referees’ interpretation of the tackle law and this could be an issue on Sunday given that the exchanges are expected to be fiercely combative.
“Some referees will blow up one thing but others will ignore this. Players have difficulty in knowing just what they have to do to stay on the right side of referees,” said McGeeney.