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Revitalised Oak Leafs are riding a wave of confidence

By John Campbell

Brian McIver may find his sudden change in fortunes somewhat difficult to embrace, given the trauma he has endured in relation to elongated injury lists virtually since taking up his post, but the Derry boss can nonetheless view the immediate future with something approaching optimism.

A team which suffered relegation to Division Two of the league and which as a consequence carried a dubious rating into the Ulster Championship suddenly finds itself on the cusp of a place in the last 12 of the race to the Sam Maguire Cup.

The Oak Leaf outfit would certainly not have merited inclusion in such an august grouping from even their own most die-hard fans but recent statistics linked to a new-found collective spirit now send McIver's men into Saturday's crucial All-Ireland third round qualifier against Galway at Salthill cushioned by a fresh sense of ambition.

Victory in their final league game over Cork was followed by a narrow win against Down at the first hurdle in the Ulster Championship before McIver's side bowed the knee to Donegal (1-19 to 0-10) in an engrossing semi-final.

Redemption of sorts quickly followed against Wexford last week-end and now McIver can aspire to a greater level of achievement.

And when he sits down to put the finishing touches to his team tonight, he will have selection options that would have been inconceivable not so long ago.

Indeed, when it comes to taking the positives, McIver is filling his boots. He has seen how the ongoing unavailability of key players can sap morale and trigger apprehension among fans.

Now that he is confronted by a proverbial basket of selection goodies, the notion that Championship action next month is not beyond the capabilities of his side is beginning to take shape within a county starved of success since the Ulster title triumph in 1998.

Ciaran McFaul, Kevin Johnston and James Kielt were among the luminaries missing when the Oak Leaf side were rather more superior to Wexford last Sunday than the final score of 1-16 to 0-10 might suggest.

But it was the expansive nature of Derry's performance - and the contributions of players yet to attain household name status - that fuels McIver's enthusiasm for the forthcoming trip west.

But he knows that Galway will be lying in wait heartened by their fine win over Armagh and cushioned by the knowledge that they have home advantage.

"We know that qualifier games can take on a life of their own," insisted McIver, whose side lost out to lowly Longford in the competition last year.

"If you are not mentally right you can so easily get turned over."

Armagh certainly know what he means. They found themselves adrift by 1-12 to 0-7 going into the last quarter on Sunday before losing by three points.

Galway boss Kevin Walsh expects Derry to offer similar stubborn resistance.

"Armagh were well set up and difficult to break down. I have no doubt Derry will be the same. They will feel confident after that win over Wexford and will have no fear," stated Walsh.

Confidence will certainly be a weapon in Derry's arsenal on Saturday.

Belfast Telegraph


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