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26 May 2022

McKinley keeps his sights on main prize for Derry

The hurlers have a 100% record going into their Division 2B final.

McKinley keeps his sights on main prize for Derry

Derry's hurling manager Dominic McKinley at Celtic Park on Sunday as the Oakleaf men kept their unbeaten league record. (Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

While Sunday’s win over London wasn’t the most pressurised or significant game that Derry hurlers will play this season, it was an important one nonetheless.

A second half drubbing of their opponents ensured that the Oakleaf head into a promotion play-off in two weeks off the back of a 100% record – five wins from five.

Having already secured their play-off place prior to Sunday’s game, joint managers Dominic McKinley and Cormac Donnelly had a chance to rest key men and give more minutes to other squad members.

Derry have been stagnating in Division 2B and McKinley knows full well that if hurling within the county wants to progress further, promotion is a huge factor – and he believes there are plenty of players in the squad who deserve a higher platform to play on.

“I said when I first came here that these hurlers in Derry deserve a profile and you don’t get a profile in the league you’re playing in, and that’s not being disrespectful - you have to get up to a higher level,” explained the Antrim native.

“They deserve that profile and that’s why we’re working hard altogether as a unit. You can see the numbers that we have there – 34 or 35 of a panel which is something that’s been a long time coming.

"Even last year we couldn’t have done that – we wouldn’t have had the numbers to do that.

“It gives them an opportunity. We’re in the final but we’ve nothing won yet. We need to get up in there and try and get up to Division 2A and then you can get more profile.

"These boys are some of the best hurlers in Ulster and in Ireland, so they need a higher platform and they need to be seen and what’s what we’re working towards.”

The ‘dead rubber’ nature of the weekend’s game with London allowed McKinley and Donnelly to switch up their selections and while that, and the trademark Celtic Park wind, saw them struggle to get into their rhythm in a first half which finished 0-8 apiece, it all clicked into gear well in the second when they outscored their opponents by 0-17 to 0-1.

Derry's Gerard Bradley prepares to hit the sliotar with London's Paddy O'Toole on his heels. (Photo - Tom Heaney, nwpresspics)

“There’s a lot of boys working very hard in training so it was good to give a few more of them the opportunity to play,” explained McKinley.

“I said to them after the game that when it’s your first game after a lot of training you are going to make fumbles and mistakes and so on, but they’ll realise now what it’s like to play in the National League irrespective of what level they’re in.

“In the first half we weren’t pleased because we were fumbling ball and doing things we shouldn’t be doing but the breeze was a major factor as well.

"The fluency started in the second half and we started to take more control around the half-back line and in midfield and we started ticking over with the points.

He continued: “It keeps us in a good place, and you always want to win. I said to the boys even before we started that it’s a good opportunity, but you want to win games, you don’t want to lose them.

"It’s a serious business and there’s serious time and effort and resources that goes into it, so we have to make sure we’re ticking over.

“Young Aodhan O’Hagan came in and Eamon Conway – these are players who have been training and working hard so it’s very important for them to get minutes on the pitch.

"Another important thing is getting through it with no injuries because we have a wee pile of them at the minute with Odhran (McKeever), Richie (Mullan), Cormac (O’Doherty) and them boys carrying wee knocks so hopefully in the next two weeks they’ll cure and we’ll be ready for the final.”

Derry will now face the winner of Donegal v Sligo in the Allianz National League final on the weekend of the 2nd/3rd April.

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