Brian McIver predicts a silver lining for Derry
The occasional shafts of light which have permeated the gloom that has largely enveloped Derry football for over two decades have prompted manager Brian McIver to lay the groundwork for a full-frontal assault on major silverware this year.
When the All-Ireland title was captured for the first time in 1993, it was thought that this would trigger a spell of Oak Leaf dominance within the higher echelons of the sport.
But a glance at Derry's trophy haul since then confirms that the county has resided in the shadows, consigned to the role of bit-players as teams such as Tyrone, Armagh and Donegal hoovered up honours.
Not since 1998 has the Ulster title rested in the Oak Leaf County while the Allianz League title was won in 2008 and the Dr McKenna Cup in 2011.
It's hardly surprising, then, that McIver has issued a clarion call as his team face into Sunday's McKenna Cup confrontation with Fermanagh but, more importantly, set their sights on a league campaign that their manager believes will be "fiercely competitive."
"You would have to say that Derry have under-performed in the past but this year there are a number of players in the team who will be in their third year and we would hope that the experience they have gained will stand them in good stead for what will be a fiercely competitive league," states McIver.
"We have a hard road ahead. The league is looming at the end of this month and we have a very difficult opener away to Donegal.
"That will set the tone for the rest of our programme and then when you look at the Ulster Championship you see that we must face Down. They beat us in Celtic Park in 2013 and now they will be entering the Ulster Championship for the first time under their new manager Jim McCorry.
"Our defeat to Longford in the first round of the All-Ireland qualifiers last summer was particularly galling, it has to be said.
"But the scene is now set for what will be a challenging season and we feel we have the players and the spirit and commitment to face up to this."
McIver has blooded a number of players over the past two years in particular and believes he is in the process of finding the right balance within his side.
The return of Barry McGoldrick, Daniel Haveron and Mark Craig will give the Derry boss further selection options while the possibility that Eoin Bradley will again be seen in Derry's colours further down the line when his commitments with Glenavon have ended is a tantalising prospect.
Derry officials were somewhat perturbed on Sunday last when much was made of the fact that Ulster champions Donegal were considerably under-strength for their 1-16 to 0-08 Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup defeat to the Oak Leafers.
Derry PRO Dermot McPeake said: "Of the team we fielded last Sunday only five played against Donegal in the Championship last year."
Emmet McGuckin is unavailable for the remainder of the McKenna Cup campaign because of studies but expects to be back for the league while Oisin Duffy, Declan Brown, Conor McAtamney, James Kearney and Daniel McKinless are among others to whom manager McIver will be looking to step up smartly to the plate this year and deliver further on the promise they have been showing.