National Football League: Fading Derry in need of a spark
The rich promise of Derry’s early form in Division Two of the Allianz Football League has suddenly morphed into what will for them be a nerve-jangling climax to the competition.
Now instead of focusing on what had been an anticipated place in the divisional decider, John Brennan’s side must not only ensure they claim maximum points from their remaining games against Meath and Antrim but fervently hope that somehow both Laois and Kildare might stumble over the last furlong.
And despite his team’s descent into a mid-table position following their most recent setback against promotion favourites Donegal, who are likely to further enhance their unbeaten record given that their last two games are against Antrim and Laois, Brennan refuses to dwell on one of the main reasons why their halo has slipped.
No team in the country, though, has been left bereft of such a battery of midfield talent as the Oak Leaf outfit.
Right now, James Conway, Joe Diver, Patsy Bradley and Fergal Doherty — all battle-hardened campaigners — are unavailable and although Meath, next Sunday’s visitors to Celtic Park, are rooted at the bottom of the table the optimism that had engulfed Derry following a protracted unbeaten stint earlier in the year has waned.
Instead, apprehension is prevalent as Brennan prepares to undertake engine-room repairs in the hope that his team can somehow regain their momentum to reach Division One.
P J McCloskey and Michael Friel found the going tough at midfield against Donegal when Rory Kavanagh, a wing-forward for most of his career to date, largely ran the show for the winners.
Now Brennan may turn again to Coleraine clubman Niall Holly who has shown up quite well in his limited appearances to date having turned out for his university in the McKenna Cup.
The Derry boss also has the option of withdrawing the vastly-experienced Enda Muldoon from the attack to bolster his midfield but this would only apply for a particular spell in the game.
Paddy Bradley, Mark Lynch and Barry McGoldrick, all absentees from the starting line-up against Donegal, should be in from the word go against Meath but Bradley’s brother Eoin misses the game through suspension.
Full-back Kevin McCloy, sent off against Jim McGuinness’s side after incurring two yellows, will be available again while Charlie Kielt and Ciaran Mullan should have key roles in the rearguard.
Derry PRO Chris McCann says: “Obviously we have been very badly hit by the long-term injuries but the squad know how important these upcoming games against Meath and Antrim are and they will be putting in a big effort to take the promotion race down to the wire.”