Derry’s walking wounded are returning to lift Brennan’s spirits
Derry manager John Brennan could be forgiven for thinking that he has been trapped in an injury quagmire almost since taking up his post towards the end of 2010.
The Lavey man had to exercise considerable patience prior to landing the job — he had previously been overlooked — but he could not have foreseen the problems that lay in store for him.
At one stage last year four midfielders — Fergal Doherty, Patsy Bradley, Niall Holly and Joe Diver — were unavailable to Brennan and his woes were forcibly compounded when Paddy Bradley was ruled out of the Ulster championship with a serious injury.
His brother Eoin sustained a cruciate ligament injury after scoring 1-5 in the semi-final and was unable to line out in the decider against Donegal.
For the first third of this year, it appeared that the injury cloud which has hovered over the Oak Leaf camp for so long would show no sign of lifting.
Gerard O’Kane, Michael Friel, Michael Bateson and Conlieth Gilligan are among the players who were conspicuous by their absence at various stages during the Allianz League, prompting Brennan to believe that his Championship planning might be jettisoned. But hope springs eternal. Slowly but surely Derry’s walking wounded have returned to front line duty, the recovery of the long-serving O’Kane, a versatile, constructive defender, a particular bonus.
When Paddy Bradley experienced pain in his knee earlier this month, Brennan had renewed cause for apprehension but a scan has revealed no damage.
Now one of his main concerns is the welfare of talented forward Caolan O’Boyle who has a hamstring problem.
Boyle has matured quickly since getting his chance in the side having initially impressed in the colours of UUJ and should he recover in time, he will almost certainly see action against either Donegal or Cavan in the Ulster Championship quarter-final on June 16.
Brennan is understandably relieved that his side will not be action for another month.
“This gives us time to try and get everyone back on board. We had a number of players unavailable to us during the league and I suppose in the circumstances we have to be happy with what we achieved in Division Two,” says Brennan.
“There are club games in Derry between now and our Ulster quarter-final and obviously I will be fervently hoping that we face no further injury problems.
“This will allow us to prepare in the way in which we want to without having undue worries.”
Derry last won the provincial crown in 1998 and only recently Enda Muldoon, who had been the last remaining link from that team in this year’s squad, called time on his inter-county career following a series of injuries including three serious ankle problems.
“It seems to me that some individual players have had to deal with more than their fair share of injuries and that is unfortunate,” points out Brennan.
“Yet despite these kind of setbacks the mood within our camp is good and the boys are really looking forward to getting back to playing again, especially in the special atmosphere of the Ulster Championship.”
Meanwhile John Kingham found himself with mixed feelings when the spurned the opportunity to represent his native Monaghan, instead throwing in his lot with neighbours Armagh.
Yet the towering Kingham, who can play at midfield or full-forward, could not have envisaged that a performance against the Farney County in a challenge match would bolster his chances of now seeing action in the Ulster Championship with Paddy O'Rourke's side.
It was on Sunday week last that Kingham imposed himself to such an extent in that game that he has edged closer to a starting place against Tyrone on June 10.
But the former Donaghmoyne clubman who is now with Culloville is certainly taking nothing for granted — far from it, in fact. “I want to give training my best shot for the next few weeks in the build-up to this game,” said Kingham.
“This is the biggest match I have ever been involved in as a squad member and I want to try and realise my full potential.”
While the recent Allianz League offered him the opportunity to curry favour with the discerning Armagh fans, Kingham acknowledges that the team did not do itself justice in the competition.
“I thought that some games especially those against Laois, Mayo and Donegal slipped away from us,” he added. “The relegation issue went down to the wire but really we should have been able to make ourselves safe.”