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Derry are striving to hit a winning streak

By John Campbell

The possibility of making it three competitive wins on the trot for the first time this year is suddenly a compelling carrot for Derry as they prepare to face Donegal in Saturday's Ulster senior football championship semi-final at Clones (7.00pm).

And this would certainly be a significant feat for a side that have struggled since the start of the year to achieve any real level of consistency.

Victory over Cork in their final Allianz League game did not prevent Brian McIver's side from making the drop to Division Two but when it was complemented by an Ulster quarter-final win over Down earlier this month, a discernible ray of optimism at last pierced the gloom which has engulfed the Oak Leaf county.

However, detailed studies of videos of Donegal's masterly performance against Armagh have forcibly brought home to the Derry squad the enormity of the task they now face - a fact conceded by defender Kevin Johnston.

"Wins in Championship matches have not been easy to come by for Derry in recent years but we have to accept that we made hard work of beating Down. We were relieved more than anything else to get over the line because our second-half performance simply was not good enough," stressed Dungiven clubman Johnston.

"We were three or four points up and then Down lost a man but maybe we retreated into our shell a little and they came at us. Fair play to them, they maybe deserved at least a draw."

Johnston's stark analysis, if anything, further emphasises the challenge that his side face against a Donegal team that not only thrust themselves into the favourites' role for the Ulster title by the manner in which they disposed of Armagh but also burst into the All-Ireland title reckoning.

"It is always said that there are no easy games in the Ulster Championship but Donegal were awesome against Armagh," reflected Johnston.

"We have to admit that our league campaign was disappointing but then if you look back at last year we reached the league final and yet went out of the Championship at the first hurdle. We hope to have a reversal of that this year and get a good run in the Championship."

The return of a fit-again Fergal Doherty, the composure which Brendan Rodgers displayed in his championship debut at full-back against Down and the restoration of Eoin Bradley to the attack are viewed as important plus factors as Derry aim to take their lead from Antrim and Sligo last weekend and provide another shock result.

"Fergal Doherty's ability to win ball in midfield coupled with his leadership qualities are a boost while it's great to have Brendan, Eoin and others in there," added Johnston.

"We know Donegal will be red-hot favourites and that's no big surprise but we want to show our self-respect and our pride and we will give it everything."

The all-action Johnston has excelled since being given his chance in the Derry colours by McIver and believes that it is high time a 17-year Ulster title famine was ended.

"Derry have gone a long time without winning the Anglo-Celt Cup. Obviously it would be great to get into the final but we know we have a mountain to climb on Saturday if we are to get that far. Antrim and Sligo were not given much of a chance of succeeding last Saturday and look what they achieved," pointed out Johnston.

Ulster SFC semi-final: Derry v Donegal,  Clones, Sat, 7.00pm (Sky Sports)

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