By Steven Doherty
DERRY manager Brian McIver was particularly impressed with the defensive aspect of his side’s win over Donegal last Sunday.
While nobody’s getting too carried away after the Oak Leafers emphatic eleven point win over Donegal in their opening McKenna Cup encounter last week, it was just the type of start manager Brian McIver would have wished for.
“Bearing in mind that it was against a very experimental Donegal side and we were using it as an exercising at looking at players I’m pleased with the performance and pleased to get a win” said McIver (pictured abnove).
“I think a number of players did put their hands up and put in good performances and that’s what we’re looking for at this time of year, to strengthen the panel and build a few foundations for the year.
“Defensively I thought we were very good too. It’s something I’ve been concerned about after last season and something that we’ve work on and I think that aspect of Sunday’s game was particularly satisfying.”
While man of the match Emmett McGuckin garnered much of the post-match plaudits with his 1-2 from play, scores arrived from all sectors of the pitch and from eleven different players. And perhaps better than that, Derry’s defence looked solid, limting their opponents to 0-8 over the seventy minutes.
Niall Holly led the line at full-back, and easily won his battle with Donegal full forward Hugh McFadden, but he was amply supported by Oisin Duffy and late call up Declan Brown on either side of him.
Their water-tight marking left the Tir Chonaill shooting from distance, and that was far from their forte as they hit as many as ten wides in the first half alone.
Ahead at half-time and with the wind at their backs in the second, there was always only ever going to be one winner after that, as the Oak Leaf county cantered home with a fine win.
Indeed, had it not been for the heroics of Michael Boyle in the Donegal nets, the score could have been much more decisive. Fresh faced James Kearney and midfielder Conor McAtamney impressed going forward, while the athletic Ciaran McFaul continued to add to his growing reputation at the top tier. Kevin Johnston and John O’Kane both battled doggedly in the half-back line with their break ball winnig exploits and willingness to support attacks.
Barry McGoldrick and Daniel Heavron made welcome returns after a year out blighted with injury, while Mark Lynch started the season just as dazzlingly as he did this time last year. Added to all that, a number of new faces and fringe players – Liam McGoldrick, Sean Brady and Jarleth Bradley – all saw vital game time.
This weekend will see McIver mix it up in terms of playing personnel again, with a few different players gaining crucial runs out.
“We’ll definitely be rotating the squad for the Fermanagh game. I can tell you that the players that didn’t get a start last week will be getting a good run out this weekend.”
McIver takes Derry to Brewster Park on Sunday and has made eight changes to the team that started last weekend’s victory over Donegal at Owenbeg.
In come goalkeeper Thomas Mallon, Liam McGoldrick - who plays alongside older brother, Sean Leo - Mark Craig, Sean Brady, Benny Heron, Danny Heavron and debutant Niall Loughlin. Also named on the bench is Dungiven’s Conor Murphy who is likely to feature at some stage.
McIver has opted to retain the same very solid full-back line that lined out last Sunday which will see Niall Holly again deployed at full-back flanked by Foreglen’s Oisin Duffy and Gleullin’s John O’Kane either side of him. Mark Craig will form the midfield with captain Mark Lynch.
However, while this weekend gives McIver a chance to run his eye over a number of newer recruits, Derry will be without the services of last week’s top scorer Emmett McGuckin. The big Magherafelt man’s participation in this year’s McKenna Cup has probably come to an end as he continues his PGCE studies in England, although he is expected to be back for the start of the National League in three week’s time.
“Emmett will be a loss” confirmed the Ballinderry man. “His fitness has been good and he looked good on Sunday. We’ll definitely need him back for the league to take on the likes of the McGees, but I think he’s well capable for them. Emmett McGuckin when he’s on his game is a very good player and we hope he carries that form into the league for us.”
And a man who may very well partner McGuckin up front later in the season – Eoghan Bradley – was also a member of the Derry panel at Owenbeg at the weekend, even if it was in a non-playing capacity. McIver was more than happy to see the return of the mercurial Glenullin danger man.
“Yes, Eoghan’s back and training but he’ll not be playing until Glenavon’s season comes to the end. His fitness is good, it’ll just be a matter of re-introducing him to the GAA ball but he’ll be a welcome addition there. I think he showed he’s as sharp as ever in his club performances in the summer.”
Fermanagh – in transition
Opponents Fermanagh have been going through a difficult period of transition in recent years and there still seems little light at the end of the tunnel.
The departure of key players was the over-riding story of 2014 for Fermanagh, with the departure of Tommy McElroy and Barry Owens. Under manager Pete McGrath they maintained their status in Division Three, finishing just off the pace in third, but losing to Antrim in Ulster was a big blow for the Erne county fans.
Scoring from different sectors of the pitch appears to be Fermanagh’s main achilles heel.
The majority of their points came from the prolific Quigley brothers – Seamus and Sean. Sean is back, Seamus is not.
Former All-Ireland winning manager Pete McGrath took over from Peter Canavan in the Fermanagh hotseat and had a bumpy ride in his first term in charge.
They lost all three games in the McKenna Cup this time last year, including a defeat at the hands of Derry. To make matters worse they even lost to the students of St Mary’s.
A poor start to the league followed as McGrath dropped his best forward in Seamus Quigley (for playing soccer).
However, the men in green rallied somewhat after that initial difficult bedding in period and racked up three consecutive wins in Division Three as they raced up the league.
That disappointing win at the hands of the Saffrons in the Ulster Championship was followed by an agonising 2-15 to 1-9 defeat by Lois in the first round of the qualifiers.
The Erne county have already gone one better than last year’s McKenna Cup campaign when they comfortably defeated Queens in their opening game on Sunday.
And the Derry manager is wary of the threat this weekend’s opponents offer.
“Fermanagh had a good win over Queens last week and we’ll definitely not be underestimating them," he concluded. "It’s never easy getting a win up in Enniskillen and Fermanagh have been improving and they looked very strong against Queens.”
The Derry team to play Fermanagh is:
1. Thomas Mallon
2. Oisín Duffy
3. Niall Holly
4. John O’Kane
5. Kevin Johnston
6. Liam McGoldrick
7. Brian Óg McAlary
8. Mark Lynch (C)
9. Mark Craig
10. Sean Leo McGoldrick
11. Seán Brady
12. Benny Heron
13. Niall Loughlin
14. Daniel McKinless
15. Daniel Heavron
16. Eoin McNicholl; 17. Declan Brown; 18. Barry McGoldrick; 19. Conor McAtamney; 20. Ciarán McFaul; 21. James Kearney; 22. Enda Lynn; 23. Terence O’Brien; 24. Niall Toner; 25. Conor Murphy
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