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Derry intent on battling their way into the spotlight

By John Campbell

A team that garnered just three points from a possible 12 in the Allianz Football League will tonight step up a rigorous training programme that they hope will prove the first significant step on the road to redemption.

For Derry, the league brought frustration and disappointment with relegation to Division Two all but sealed even before the final round of matches had been staged but now manager Brian McIver and his players are totally focused on reclaiming their credibility in the forthcoming Ulster Championship.

And while his team's league form gave cause for concern, McIver and his management corps clearly believe that the provincial series offers the possibility of bringing the lean times to an end.

Not since 1998 has the Anglo-Celt trophy rested in Oak Leaf territory but an expanded panel, an absence of serious injuries, the encouraging form of a handful of new kids on the block and a strong yearning to see the image of the county restored help to fuel the belief that the corner can be turned.

Insult was added to injury when McIver was lambasted for his ultra-defensive set-up against Dublin in his team's penultimate league encounter but the Ballinderry man courageously absorbed the brickbats before plotting the downfall of pacesetters Cork in the last league tie.

Since then, the whole focus has switched to the Ulster Championship with the team keen to emerge from the doldrums.

With veteran war-horse Fergal Doherty approaching full fitness, Slaughtneil duo Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rodgers back with the squad and their colleagues Karl McKaigue and Patsy Bradley set to be available shortly, Brian Og McGilligan, Conor McAtamney and Emmett Bradley representing the new breed of stars and Mark Craig making a good recovery from injury, optimism is slowly seeping through the Derry psyche.

And the anticipated return of Eoin Bradley to the ranks when his seasonal commitments with Glenavon have ended trigger the notion that McIver will have considerable fire-power at his disposal given the recent consistency of Benny Heron and Enda Lynn in particular despite the team's league stumbles.

Bradley's very presence can ignite a response from his colleagues and given his contribution in the league amounted to less than two hours of football, his welcome inclusion in the inside line would surely further nurture morale for the visit of Down in what is a must-win championship encounter for McIver's men.

"We gave the boys a week off after that loss to Dublin but we are back at work now," reveals McIver. "Obviously Down will come to us in good heart now that they have been promoted.

"Their focus at the moment is on the divisional final against Roscommon but while we will pay attention to that game for obvious reasons, our priority is getting our own house in order for the championship."

Two years ago Derry were in the Division Two league final when they overcame Westmeath having already secured their place in Division One.

That same year Down suffered relegation but now the shoe is very much on the other foot with Derry contemplating life in the second tier and the Mournemen ready to rub shoulders with the big hitters.

But Derry's determination to put their dismal league campaign behind them is clearly palpable as the countdown begins in earnest to the start of the Ulster Championship.

County PRO Dermot McPeake stresses that there are still four rounds of domestic league fixtures to be played before the county squad head off on a pre-Championship bonding exercise.

"Obviously the hope is that injuries will be avoided during the league here in the county but the county players are undoubtedly very focused on making up for their recent lapses by coming good in the Ulster Championship," states McPeake.

"It's a big ask given all the circumstances but they appear to be very much up for the challenge of it."

Belfast Telegraph


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