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Derry boss Brian McIver upbeat despite omission of key duo

By John Campbell

This time last year Derry were celebrating a rare achievement - the annexing of silverware.

It was in the O'Fiaich Cup competition that the Oak Leaf county proved too hot for the rest of the field before triumphing in the final against Armagh.

But with that particular tournament now having been put on hold this time round - frankly, the chances of it being played are slim - Brian McIver's side plan to get the early-season boost they seek by instead lifting the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup.

But they will have to do so without the services of the man who led them to O'Fiaich Cup success last December. Chrissy McKaigue, now rated one of the best defenders in the country, is instead focused on Slaughtneil's forthcoming All-Ireland club football semi-final against Kerry and Munster champions Austin Stacks (Tralee) as is his club and county colleague Patsy Bradley.

Both are currently enjoying a well-earned breather following a hectic itinerary which has spanned the last three months of this year.

For McKaigue in particular, the demands have been onerous. He helped Slaughtneil win the Derry football and hurling championship titles and assisted Ireland in the International Rules Test against Australia.

With Slaughtneil manager Mickey Moran and his assistant John Joe Kearney preparing to intensify the build-up to the club's first foray into the All-Ireland club series, McKaigue is understandably an absentee from the Derry squad for the McKenna Cup.

But Oak Leaf boss McIver is still confident that his blend of youth and experience can make its mark in the competition with Donegal first up on Sunday at Celtic Park.

In fact, the sides are set to become very familiar with each other before January is out.

They are due to meet again in what should prove a hugely attractive Allianz League Division One opener on the last Saturday of the month at MacCumhaill Park, Ballybofey.

And with memories of the summer championship defeat to Donegal at Celtic Park still much too vivid for comfort, McIver is keen to see his side make an early impact in 2015.

"That championship match against Donegal had gone to script in the first half even though we lost our midfielder Fergal Doherty after he suffered a back injury with about 15 minutes gone but we fell away after the break," reflects McIver.

"Now we're meeting Donegal twice within a few weeks so we will certainly be getting to know each other a lot better."

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