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Derry eye Croke visit after turning fortunes around

By John Campbell

Sporting fortune can be fickle. This time last year Derry were slinking into the shadows suitably chastened following an ignominious All-Ireland qualifier defeat to Longford and clearly destined to part company with manager John Brennan.

It's all rather different today. Ulster title glory may have eluded the Oak Leaf county yet again – not since 1998 has the Anglo Celt Cup resided there – but nonetheless the pathway would appear to have been smoothed to meaningful progress in the All Ireland sphere.

The residue of a morale-shattering provincial quarter-final defeat to Down has been emphatically eradicated following an initial qualifier victory over Sligo (0-15 to 0-8) and a particularly satisfying second round revenge mission against the Mournemen (0-13 to 1-5) both of which have fanned the flames of optimism.

Now suddenly a quarter-final place in the hunt for 'Sam' exactly twenty years after the trophy was collected for the only time in the county's history looms on the horizon. A confrontation with Cavan at Celtic Park in the third round of the qualifiers on Saturday with the very real prospect of meeting London in round four can only be described as an extremely acceptable script for Brian McIver's side.

But while the gods are in a more benign mood, it would seem, they have not exactly taken up residence in Derry's corner.

Manager Brian McIver will be forced to reconstruct elements of his side now that P J McCloskey is out for the remainder of the season with a cruciate ligament injury, Declan Brown is still recovering from a knock and Benny Heron is hoping to make the cut this time having come on as a 54th minute substitute in the win over Down.

McIver is philosophical as he assesses the tapestry of his side for what he views as "a major test" of Derry's credentials.

"Cavan will come to us with three championship wins under their belts to date and that speaks volumes for their ability," insists McIver. "We're pleased to have got a home draw once again."

* ARMAGH manager Paul Grimley has named his team to start Saturday's round three qualifier game against Galway. The team is unchanged from the side that hammered Leitrim last weekend.

Armagh: P McEvoy; P McKeown, B Donaghy, J Morgan; A Kernan, C McKeever, M Shields; J Lavery, S Harold; C Rafferty, K Dyas, E Rafferty, J Clarke, T Kernan, E McVerry.

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