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We're keen to keep denying our rivals net gains: Rogers

 

By John Campbell

In conceding 11 goals during the recent Allianz League, Derry contributed to their downfall in the competition overall, their slide into Division Two eroding confidence and sapping morale.

Yet when the Oak Leaf side square up to Mayo in the All-Ireland qualifiers at Castelbar tomorrow, they will do so against a rather more buoyant backdrop - and backed by a firm desire to deny their opponents net gains.

The return of experienced trio Brendan Rogers and Chrissy and Karl McKaigue to the defence means it is no coincidence that Damian Barton's men have now gone four games without conceding a goal.

They kept a clean sheet in their last two league games against Cork and Fermanagh before preventing Tyrone from finding the net in the Ulster Championship and imposing a similar restriction on Waterford in the first round of the All-Ireland qualifiers.

But Slaughtneil ace Rogers accepts that it will be a big challenge to keep the Mayo forward line in check tomorrow.

"At the start of the year, several new players were brought into the defence and it understandably took time for them to settle but as they gained a bit in experience they became more confident," pointed out Rogers. "The upshot is that we haven't conceded a goal in four games but this certainly does not make us complacent for the match against Mayo.

"Maybe the fact that there is a bit more experience in our side overall now has helped but it's a team effort and everyone has been playing their part in trying to solve all of our defensive problems."

Dual star Rogers - he actually plays as a forward in hurling - believes that Derry are in the right frame of mind for tomorrow's contest.

"I think the team is more settled, we have learned more about ourselves, the boys are committed and we know just what it would mean to win against Mayo," stated Rogers. "I don't think you can read too much into past performances in relation to the Championship. Look what happened when Down met Monaghan last weekend, for instance.

"The onus is on us as players to take pride in our own performances and to bring our best game to the table. I know that maybe we did not have everyone on board at the start of the year and I certainly would not be one for forcing players to make themselves available, nor indeed would our management.

"Players have family and work commitments to look after and that's why managers have to keep up their trawl for new players and it can be difficult to field a settled team all the time as a result.

"It's a huge process for players nowadays to go through all the training that is involved and undertake the recovery sessions. But right now we have a good squad of players who have Derry's pride at heart and I think we are all very keen to do ourselves justice, although we know we are meeting one of the very top teams on the island as their recent Championship record will testify."

Mayo are still feeling the hurt after losing to Galway for the second year in a row in the Connacht Championship and manager Stephen Rochford is calling for a supreme effort from his players so that they can reignite their All-Ireland title challenge.

Rogers accepts that players such as Aidan O'Shea, Keith Higgins, Kevin McLoughlin, Andy Moran and sharpshooter Cillian O'Connor will represent a major threat to Derry's aspirations of advancing in the qualifiers.

"We know that Mayo will be a wounded animal and thus carry considerable danger but we have to have belief in our own ability to stand firm and come out on the right side," he added.

Belfast Telegraph

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