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Derry target trophy glory

By John Campbell

Derry manager Brian McIver is under no illusions as to what his side's priority must be when they cross swords again with Tyrone in what promises to be a titanic Allianz League Division One opener at Celtic Park tomorrow night (7.00pm).

"We must try and avail of any goal chances that come our way," points out McIver.

"Goals can play a very important part in winning games and I would like to think that greater accuracy coupled with the backing of our home crowd could maybe get us off to a winning start in the league."

In the recent Power NI Dr McKenna Cup semi-final between the sides, Derry availed of just one goal chance in the seven they created in going under by 2-13 to 1-13 to the Red Hands.

Even Tyrone manager Mickey Harte admits that had Derry taken "a percentage of their chances" the outcome could have been different.

And Harte will certainly be steeled for tomorrow's contest. His team reached the league decider last year only to lose by a point to Dublin and such has been their form to date that they are already bracketed among the short-odds favourites to claim the trophy.

McIver, meanwhile, will lean on a more experienced playing corps as he seeks to mark his team's arrival back in the elite division with a win over their neighbours.

Gerard O'Kane, Fergal Doherty, Mark Lynch and Sean Leo McGoldrick are among the Oak Leaf battle-hardened warriors who McIver hopes will light the torch for a productive league itinerary.

O'Kane, a former Derry skipper, is included at wing-forward having spent a considerable portion of his lengthy sojourn in Derry's colours in defence. And having missed much of the action last season because of injury he is determined to make up for lost time.

"Games between ourselves and Tyrone are always that little bit more intense," reflects O'Kane.

"While we won the O'Fiaich Cup and got to the semi-final of the McKenna Cup, we are now taking a big step up. Division One contains all the top sides and Tyrone certainly come into this bracket."

O'Kane will be joined by the very much in-form James Kielt and Enda Lynn in the half-forward line while the rapidly-emerging Ciaran McFaul and the lively Benny Heron will form the full-forward line along with Emmet McGuckin.

Heron is now one of Derry's most prolific forwards and his penchant for snapping up goals could prove crucial.

McIver will happily take a goal – or two – from any source.

"Yes, we have boys in there capable of hitting the net and obviously if we can maximise our chances we will be in with a big chance," he maintains.

Declan Brown and Dermot McBride look certain to be handed key man-marking roles in defence as McIver seeks to try and curb the efficiency of a Tyrone attack that has been on the rampage for the most part during the McKenna Cup, with the final against Cavan taking place on February 12.

Tyrone's awesome firepower was vividly illustrated in their emphatic 5-16 to 0-7 win over Armagh but they are unlikely to enjoy as much leeway against a Derry defence in which full-back Chrissy McKaigue and centre-half-back Mark Lynch are twin pillars.

McKaigue captained the side to success in the O'Fiaich Cup and believes there is a marked hunger to make progress in the league.

"Our team is now along more familiar lines and we are very keen to get off on the right foot in the league," says McKaigue.

"A number of new players have come in and we now have extra options. That's certainly encouraging given the matches that are ahead of us," maintains McKaigue.

Fergal Doherty and Patsy Bradley bring steel, aerial power and a strong work-rate to the midfield sector where they will be ably supported by the livewire McGoldrick.

This encounter, holding as it does considerable allure not to mention intrigue, should provide a real firecracker opening to the league campaign.

Derry: T Mallon; D Brown, C McKaigue, D McBride; A McAlynn, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; F Doherty, P Bradley; G O'Kane, J Kielt, E Lynn; C McFaul, E McGuckin, B Heron.

Belfast Telegraph


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