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Derry are experts when it comes to upsetting the odds: Kielt

By Declan Bogue

It was the 1995 National League final, two crumbling Derry and Donegal teams going at it hammer and tongs.

It was also James Kielt's first taste of Croke Park, but all he remembers was flags and airhorns. Back then, Derry were league specialists, winning titles in 1992, '95 and '96.

The year before Kielt came onto the senior panel – 2008 – they executed a smash and grab to beat Kerry in the final played at Parnell Park. Twelve months later, Kielt was an unused substitute as the Kingdom reversed that result.

The following season Derry dropped out of the top flight and it has taken them three years to recover.

The Kilrea dentist believes that Derry were correct to put huge emphasis on gaining promotion last year.

"In the 90's, Derry won three or four leagues but then didn't do that much in the Championships to follow," he explained.

"A lot of teams at that time took the league as pre-season stuff. It has changed a lot now, teams treat it a lot more serious and I suppose they are right. Playing top teams week-in week-out can only be a good thing.

"Then when we come to the Championship and play Donegal, it might seem like another game because we are so used to it in Division One."

That Ulster quarter-final clash with Donegal seems like an eternity away, especially when you have Tyrone calling to the Lone Moor Road this Saturday.

They might be slightly playing off-Broadway with the Dubs hosting Kerry at the same time, but it is likely that the floating audience will tune into affairs in Celtic Park immediately after the Croke Park game.

It's the type of game that Derry delight in upsetting the odds, but then again, according to Kielt, that has never been a shortcoming of theirs.

"I think form was never a problem for Derry, it was just consistency," he says.

"That's why in Championship it is so much harder as you have to be consistent in every game."

These games have a life of their own, he continues. "It is the big rivalry in Ulster football for me. On any given day no matter how things are going or how good you are, you can still beat them."

If we needed any reminding, he recalls, "In 2006, Derry went to Omagh and Tyrone didn't score in the first half as All-Ireland champions. Then you go back to the mid-90s when Derry were maybe stronger and Tyrone beat them a couple of times in Clones."

In the McKenna Cup semi-final between this pair a couple of weeks back, Tyrone had the ball in the net after 19 seconds.

On 15 minutes, Derry trailed 1-4 to no score.

Yet they got back in the game and when Kielt was introduced with 20 minutes left he grabbed three points.

In the last play of the contest he blazed wide with the goal at his mercy, failing to scored and force the replay.

"We shaded possession and had a measure of midfield dominance, more than enough to win the game," he added.

"We just conceded too much in the first half, missed too much in the second so you can't win too much at this level when you miss that much."

The seven goal chances that Derry spurned was the story of the game.

They are unlikely to be as sloppy on Saturday.

* Abbey CBS booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Danske Bank MacRory Cup thanks to a 1-11 to 0-12 victory over St. Paul's Bessbrook at the Athletic Grounds last night.

The winners struck for a first half goal through Ryan Trainor but it was Bessbrook who led by the minimum at the break thanks to points from Jody McGovern, Ryan Hughes and Michael McNamee.

Abbey were the better side in the second half and scores from Donagh McAleenan, Trainor and Conor Doyle made sure of victory.

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