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Derry's effort to prove their critics wrong has been nothing short of heroic

Derry in league finals is hardly a new narrative. For a time in the '90s, in reaching four finals in seven years, the small hardcore that follow Derry had reason to be blasé about such achievements. A popular theory even took root that it somehow hampered Championship preparations.

But the league was a different country back then, played as it was over the winter with a couple of half-hearted games taking place in October and November.

Derry claimed four league titles in that spell and one All-Ireland and it's hard to disagree that a group as diversely talented as Henry Downey, Anthony Tohill, Brian McGilligan, Enda Gormley, Joe Brolly, Damian Cassidy and the rest didn't deserve more bang for their buck when it came to the knock-out stuff in high summer.

Now, the league has prestige. Squeezing it into a calendar year helped, but the profile has also grown with numerous televised matches, a sensible pricing system and a helter skelter programme of matches that makes for ever-changing sub-plots.

One sticky storyline has been the fortunes of Derry. They came into the league and were installed as second-favourites for relegation before a ball was kicked in anger.

Yet they have hardly put a foot wrong and just when you think they might meekly surrender, they come back stronger than ever.

Such as the first day against Tyrone, when they were seven points behind early in the second half. Or at any time against Dublin, particularly when they appeared vulnerable in the opening quarter.

Last Sunday against Mayo was their most assured performance though. They were nothing short of heroic in their efforts.

There is much to admire about this group, their management, the modesty of their players that makes their first round clash against Donegal the game of the forthcoming Ulster Championship.

The handling of Eoin Bradley has been pragmatic, and you sense by the presence of Paul McIver in the media room for post-match interviews instead of his father that they might just be sick of the speculation at this stage.

Some of the arguments for the re-integration of Bradley are clinging on, but any serious contemplation would prove them false. It might be felt, for example, that Bradley is a man that would shine in Croke Park. But we have no evidence of that.

What we have against it is the 2-15 they hit against Mayo, having been down to 14 men with the sending-off of Fergal Doherty after 24 minutes. And, as was reported in this paper last week, Bradley is also believed to have signed a pre-contract agreement to play Irish League soccer next season.

Ulster doesn't need a strong Derry team, but it's good to see their self-esteem restored.

Belfast Telegraph