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O'Fiaich Cup a great chance to assess Derry panel, says Brian McIver

By Declan Bogue

With his charges set to play under the new black card rule for the first time tonight in the O'Fiaich Cup against Louth, Derry manager Brian McIver has admitted the game will be something of a step into the unknown.

"We haven't been able to do a lot. We haven't been able to return to official training until Sunday. We had a match on Sunday and a meeting the previous week where we brought in a couple of our referees, just to discuss with the players and let them know the situation now is," explained the 2002 club All-Ireland winning manager.

"At least our group will have a couple of games under our belt before we start the McKenna Cup.

"It's like everything else, it's going to take time for players to adjust, time for referees to adjust to it.

"A year from now, it might well prove to be very successful or it might well prove to be unmanageable.

"Who knows? But the new rules are there and it's up to teams to play according to them."

At present, a number of county teams are sifting through their extended panels and getting challenge matches organised. Being able to take part in a structured competition while he assesses the talent at his disposal is most welcome for McIver.

He explained: "At a very personal level I have never been a great fan of friendlies or challenge matches, in fact I must have the worst record in the world in terms of challenge games.

"So yeah, I am glad of the competition. We will be starting with Louth and then we have Down on Sunday and Armagh the following Wednesday night.

"Three good games and it will give us an opportunity to look at all the lads that we have brought into our panel.

"We will get a chance to get a wee bit of work done that you would normally be doing in the McKenna Cup and had a chance to look at boys before the McKenna Cup starts."

As expected, Derry have named a largely-experimental team for tonight's clash as they aim to gradually whittle down their squad by the end of the McKenna Cup in preparation for the National League, when they resume their place in the top flight. Their first game will be at home to old foes Tyrone and a week later they make the journey to Kerry.

Something that will delight Oak Leaf fans – along with a return of the red band right across their new-style jerseys – is the return of Fergal Doherty.

The totemic midfielder dropped out of the Derry panel before the 2011 season after opening up a pub and he was understood to be keen on a return to county football last year but was prevented by injury worries.

He partners Niall Holly of Coleraine in midfield for the clash against Aidan O'Rourke's men, and the highly-rated Carlus McWilliams also comes into the starting line-up at wing-forward.

The game will throw-in at 8pm at the Athletic Grounds.

DERRY (v Louth): Thomas Mallon (Loup); Oisin Duffy (Foreglen), Mark Craig (Dungiven), Mickey McShane (Ballinascreen); Conor McAtamney (Swatragh), Aidan McAlynn (Loup), Karl McKaigue (Slaughtneil); Niall Holly (Eoghan Rua), Fergal Doherty (Bellaghy); Carlus McWilliams (Ballinascreen), Ciaran McFaul (Glen), James Kearney (Swatragh); Declan Mullan (Eoghan Rua), Emmett McGuckin (Magherafelt), Ciaran McGoldrick (Eoghan Rua).

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