Eoin McNicholl raring to go for Derry
Eoin McNicholl will take his place between the sticks for Derry's home fixture against Fermanagh in tomorrow's Dr McKenna Cup fixture at Owenbeg (throw-in 2pm), glad that he is finally back in the thick of it.
A knee injury he picked up towards the end of last year has meant he has spent the last few months in rehab. He missed all the O'Fiaich Cup campaign, but now he takes over the custodian's role from Thomas Mallon.
The Glenullin netminder reveals: "I went for an injection there in November to try and sort it out. I wanted to play some of the O'Fiaich Cup games but Brian (McIver, Derry manager) recommended just to come and provide a bit of cover."
He continues: "If I was needed then I would go on, but he really wanted to make sure I was 100% right. The physios wanted to give me another couple of weeks with them. I thought I was going to nearly miss all of the McKenna Cup because they want me to do a bit more rehab but thankfully, I am getting a game."
Derry have already played four games in winning the O'Fiaich Cup and their early start was evident in the way they beat Monaghan last weekend, who admittedly are only back in collective training.
That stands in marked contrast to tomorrow's opponents, who have only resumed training for the past month under new manager Pete McGrath, and who went down to a rare victory in this tournament for St Mary's on Wednesday night.
McNicholl sees the benefit in getting the early start when he says: "It's always good to get a few competitive games under your belt, even before January.
"We had good opposition in the form of Armagh, Louth and Down. It's definitely stood to us and we will see on Sunday how it goes."
In his second year in the Derry panel, McNicholl admits to enjoying it greatly now that he is settled.
"I get on like a house on fire with all the management team. I am starting to gel a wee bit. There were a lot of new faces in last year and everybody takes a wee while to gel together.
"But I couldn't be happier with the whole squad and with the management team that's in there now at the minute. It's really good to be a part of it and hopefully we will see where we can go this year."
One question mark over the future of the team is Eoin Bradley. Earlier this week, McNicholl's clubmate stated that he would stay with Coleraine FC for the remainder of their Irish League campaign, with Brian McIver feeling that Bradley cannot combine both.
"I haven't seen him at all. Haven't even seen him around the club. I suppose he is tied up with training with Coleraine so I don't really know the craic there," comments McNicholl, who feels a resolution to the situation is still possible.
"Eoin is caught. He wants to play the both, you never know what can happen. As Brian said, the door is always open to anybody who is playing well. He doesn't have to prove himself but he has to show he is still in good form."
Bradley signed a contract for a season and the Irish League runs until May, but with Derry due to meet the 2012 All-Ireland champions Donegal on May 25th, McIver would be reluctant to tempt any disharmony by parachuting a player in for the Championship.
Bradley himself has said: "I think I can play both sports but Brian doesn't. I wouldn't say I have turned my back on Derry – I'm enjoying it at Coleraine and didn't think it would go so well.
"At this stage of my career there are not many years left. I had to make the decision for myself. You get a few pounds and while it's not all about the money, it's nice to get paid for what you're doing."
He added, "I explained the situation to Brian. He understands and said the door is always open. He said if I had done this earlier in my career it would have been better."
In a twist of fate, Bradley's father Liam – manager of Antrim – has said that he will welcome Kevin Niblock back into the Saffrons squad in time for the Championship, if he makes himself available.
Niblock has recently signed forms for Cliftonville and is hopeful of making the breakthrough.