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Derry determined to have final say - Oisin McCloskey

By Declan Bogue

It's been 13 years since Derry last won an Ulster senior hurling title, but the esteem in which the tournament was held back then, compared to now, is a world away.

When Geoffrey McGonigle, Ollie Collins, Kieran McKeever and the rest put back-to-back Ulster titles together, it was thought they could emerge as a credible force, especially after they gave Offaly the fright of their lives in the 2000 All-Ireland quarter-final.

However, the progress was stalled and the numerous changes to the format and levels of All-Ireland hurling has left them lagging behind. Winning an Ulster title has no prestige now, and teams do not prepare for the Liam Harvey Cup. Instead, Derry are chasing their first Christy Ring Cup.

Once their campaign ended in this regard, they did not meet up together as a squad until the Thursday night before their Ulster Championship opened against Armagh. Still, as centre-back Oisín McCloskey says, now that they are in a final they will look to strongly contest it.

"You are going out and no matter what way preparations are, as soon as you cross the line, the competitive edge comes out in everybody. You want to compete," the 25-year-old Banagher man said.

Derry faced Down in the semi-final and the teams were level at the end of normal time. After two halves of extra-time they were still level and even another period of extra-time could not separate them in a quite remarkable turn of events.

Last week, Derry made sure of it and eased their passage to their ninth provincial final, as they search for their fifth title.

They met up last Tuesday night for a light stretch and to get some minor injuries cleared up. On Thursday evening they conducted a brief, 45-minute session with the emphasis on striking and getting their touch in before they face Antrim this Sunday, at their home venue of Owenbeg (throw-in 3.30pm).

Derry named their team on Thursday and it was eye-catching how Liam Óg and Kevin Hinphey, two of the hurling stalwarts in the county, have been named on the substitute's bench.

Still, the game being hosted in Owenbeg – not far from a hurling stronghold in Dungiven, should at least ensure the crowd rises above the 139 spectators that attended the 2013 Ulster final, which was eventually hosted last February.

McCloskey adds: "Home advantage is a big thing, I always say, in any sport. Especially Derry hurlers, we are not great travellers, we seem to do better at home so hopefully that will make something of a difference."

"Antrim seem to be going well and looking at their reports and all the rest of it they probably should have beaten Offaly, only for a late goal. We know we are going to be up against it but we are looking forward to it at the same time."

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