New Derry manager John Brennan makes it clear that his team’s unbeaten run to date in 2011 will count for nothing if they do not carry their form into the National League.
In overcoming Queen’s, Monaghan and Cavan in the Barrett Sports Lighting Dr McKenna Cup, Derry not only booked a semi-final meeting with Antrim at Celtic Park tomorrow (7.00pm) but have offered the promise of a strong league run.
It’s delivering on this promise though that preoccupies the diligent Brennan right now.
“We are very pleased to be going in against Antrim but next weekend we are due to meet Tyrone in our league opener and that’s when we will really be measured,” insists Brennan.
The Lavey man made the point earlier this month that Derry needed to regain a “winning mentality” and now he is keen to see this sustained. “Antrim will be a stiff test for us. They are unbeaten too and their manager Liam Bradley has been putting out a strong enough team so far,” points out Brennan.
The Derry boss himself has been leaning on old hands to some extent with players like like Barry McGoldrick, Gerard O’Kane, Conleith Gilligan, Sean Leo McGoldrick, Paddy Bradley, James Conway and Mark Lynch showing fine form. However, upwards on nine players have still to return to the squad.
“This will give us more options but I must say I am very happy with the way we have been playing and with the manner in which new guys have been fitting in,” says Brennan.
For his part, Saffrons boss Bradley has overseen wins over St Mary’s and Armagh as well as a spirited draw against last season’s beaten All Ireland finalists Down.
Brendan Herron and Aodhan Gallagher have been forming a useful midfield partnership, Colin Brady, Andrew McLean and skipper Kevin O’Boyle form a solid full-back line while CJ McGourty, Paddy Cunningham and the particularly impressive Kevin Niblock are very much on song up front.
Bradley acknowledges that his native Derry, with his son Paddy certain to be doing his best to thwart Antrim’s ambitions of reaching the final, will provide the acid test for his side.
“Derry are on an early roll, there’s no doubt about that. But I feel we have been playing well and we have been getting a bit of cohesion going. It’s still only January but we need to be on our toes for the start of the National League. Tomorrow night’s game is very important in this context,” says the Saffrons boss.
The Derry half-forward line has been operating more smoothly so far this year and this is one of the main reasons why the team is still undefeated.
Should a speed merchant like Declan Mullan in particular see plenty of the ball tomorrow night, then Brennan’s men might well stride into the final — and derive another healthy dose of confidence for the start of the National League.