Shane McGuigan in action against Leitrim at Croke Park. (Pic: Mary K Burke)
NFL DIVISION 3 (ROUND 1)
Derry v Leitrim
Saturday (5.00) – Celtic Park
Ref: Noel Mooney (Cavan)
It will be familiar face for the Oakleafers on Saturday evening, as Rory Gallagher leads Derry's promotion bid towards its first hurdle.
Derry defeated Leitrim in last season's division four final but it will be a much changed side Terry Hyland will bring to Celtic Park this weekend.
Leitrim, who had five debutants on the day, were hammered 7-16 to 0-7 in the semi-final of Connacht's FDB league earlier this month by what was essentially a second string Roscommon side.
A scratch below the surface reveals that defenders Paddy Maguire and Adrian Flynn were the only surviving starters from the Croke Park that played in their filleting at the hands of the Rossies, with Darragh Rooney – a used substitute against Derry last year – the third player.
From the last year's promotion winning squad Emlyn Mulligan, Gary Reynolds, Sean McWeeney and captain Micheal McWeeney are among 13 players not involved this season.
Also missing was Ryan O'Rourke through injury and while there is an outside chance he could start on Saturday, reports circulating have pointed towards a round three return for the Leitrim talisman.
With last year's goalkeeper Cathal McCrann's exodus from the panel, the shoulder injury to Diarmuid McKiernan saw highly rate 17 year-old Killian Gaffey deputise between the posts. He was only on the field for two of Roscommon's goals, he is inexperienced and leaves Hyland with a selection headache ahead of what he describes as a 'very strong' division 'on paper'.
“You have the likes of your Corks and Derrys and Tipperarys and Downs..teams that are traditionally up the ranks,” Hyland told the Leitrim Observer.
“It is not going to be an easy division for Leitrim or anybody else in it but at the end of the day, we have to get ourselves ready for it. Going forward, we have to make sure that we have as many fit lads as possible for that.”
HERE AN NOW
Hyland is going into his second term as manager but for Rory Gallagher, it's his first league outing as boss.
Speaking yesterday, the former Donegal and Fermanagh boss wasn't getting drawn into the pitfalls of Derry's league campaign as a whole. His narrative was very much about the here and now.
The Monaghan and Donegal McKenna Cup games are in the past. The trip to Páirc Esler to face Down, and what follows it, is for another day.
“The big focus will be on playing ourselves,” Gallagher stressed. “We have to put our imprint on how we want to play.
“We (have to) bring the right levels of commitment and the right levels of playing for each other. They are the big things on our agenda.”
The first decision the Derry manager will have to make is who wears the number one jersey. Kick-outs have been something that Gallagher has highlighted of importance and in that regard, it could see Magherafelt's Odhrán Lynch get the nod for what would be his league debut.
In defence, the McKaigue brothers are likely to join Brendan Rogers as the mainstays in terms of marking. Gallagher also expects Niall Keenan to be available for selection which will leave competition for places.
The shape of playing two men up front, with a link player at centre-forward was the blueprint in their defeat to Monaghan in Inniskeen. Against Donegal, the visitors' tactic of flooding the middle left Derry often replicating, with just two up front in total.
I would point to a sweeper, which could be Paudie McGrogan or Gareth McKinless, who had a fine season leading Ballinderry's counter-attacking moves from deep.
Shea Downey had a fine game there against Monaghan and was able to get forward to join the attack but a 'niggle' looks set to rule him out of Celtic Park this weekend.
Conor McCluskey and Ryan Dougan could also come into consideration after two starts so far.
Ciaran McFaul played at wing back against Monaghan and while he was Derry's best passer, he was exploited when Aaron Mulligan played him at his own game, dropping off to take scores.
The Glen man and Christopher 'Sammy' Bradley could well be up against each other for the spot in front of midfield.
It will be interesting if Gallagher keeps faith with Foreglen's Eoghan Duffy who had a tremendous club season. He has the work-rate is a fit to Derry's system and in the Donegal game, he had the energy to pick a pocket of space for Lynch to poke a kick-out to him in.
The jewel in Derry's attack has been Shane McGuigan and with a trimmer Ryan Bell in fine scoring form, they are likely to line out in the inside line of Derry's attack.
Including injured players, a glance at Derry's panel takes the count to 47, or very close to it. The challenge is to keep all the players on board and with the seven matches coming their way over the next two months, they will need to be firing on all cylinders, week on week.
Last year, Derry had to scrape for their lives to take two points home from Corrigan Park.
The Oakleafers will have tougher tests this season but if they can get the mentality right on Saturday night, it's hard to see them not getting off to a winning start.
Sat, Feb 1
Down v Derry (7.00 Páirc Esler)
Sunday, Feb 9
Derry v Tipperary (1.00 Owenbeg)
Sun, Feb 23
Derry v Louth (2.00 Owenbeg)
Sun, Mar 1
Cork v Derry (2.00 Páirc Uí Chaoimh)
Sun, Mar 15
Derry v Longford (2.00 Celtic Park)
Sun, Mar 22
Offaly v Derry (2.00 Tullamore)
Shane McGuigan – Since kicking Derry to Ulster minor glory in 2015, McGuigan has always been a star in the making. Under Mickey Moran he developed his game as Slaughtneil dominated the Derry club scene. During the McKenna Cup, it was Ryan Bell who provided the focal point for their attack and McGuigan would the perfect fit to slot in alongside him.
ONE TO WATCH
Odhrán Lynch – One of the stars of Magherafelt's march to the John McLaughlin Cup success was goalkeeper Lynch, who caught the eye of new Derry boss Rory Gallagher. Having played outfield for most of his underage, he is comfortable on the ball and has both a long and varied kick-out. He will be stiff opposition for established 'keeper Thomas Mallon for the number one jersey.
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