Shane McGuigan has been Derry’s top scorer for the past two seasons but, even though his marksmanship has been central to the team’s progress, the 23-year-old schoolteacher believes that Sunday’s Ulster Championship quarter-final against Donegal will offer a major challenge in terms of his team’s overall finishing skills.
Declan Bonner’s side will go into the game as warm favourites fortified by the experience of having contested nine of the last 10 provincial finals — winning five — while Derry last reached the decider in 2011 and must go back to 1998 for their last success.
But while admitting that the hand of history is heavily weighted in Donegal’s favour, McGuigan believes that Derry’s improved collective finishing skills have the capacity to create problems for their opponents.
“To be honest, earlier in the season and indeed last year we were creating scoring chances through playing a running game with players coming from deep but we maybe were not taking most of them,” he explains.
"Our finishing has improved but we know that we have to look particularly sharp on Sunday when you consider that Donegal scored 3-25 in beating Down.”
While his own statistics are impressive, he also points to the input of players such as Niall Loughlin and Benny Heron.
“We have good finishers in this Derry side but we simply must hit top gear on Sunday,” he insists.
"We know what Donegal are capable of, especially if they are given any freedom, and they have players in there who are particularly adept at scoring from distance.”
With manager Rory Gallagher making it clear that Derry should not be satisfied with having attained promotion to Division Two and must keep the Ulster title firmly in their sights, McGuigan is aware that this will make further demands on the team.
“But these will be positive,” he reasons.
“And this being the case, our conversion rate in terms of putting scores on the board must be the very best we can manage. Rory has been putting a big emphasis on the togetherness of the squad and the players are enjoying being in each other’s company when you consider what everyone has been through for a year or more now.”
While Derry’s promotion in the league and their manager’s positive outlook has fuelled optimism within a county that has laboured in the shadows for much too long now, McGuigan infuses what he believes is a dose of reality into the situation.
“While we have made some progress, there is still a long way to go,” he maintains.
“This is a new-look Derry side which maybe does not envisage winning Ulster or All-Ireland titles just yet. At the same time, we are satisfied with the way season has gone and we hope to build on this in the championship.”