WITH THE McKenna Cup sparring over, Brian McIver’s reign as Derry senior football manager begins in earnest on Sunday with a testing trip to the county McIver himself has installed as favourites for the Division Two title. (Throw-in 2.00 p m )
Michael Wilson reports
Alan Mulholland’s Galway narrowly missed out on promotion to Division One last season and will present Derry - who this week confirmed Banagher’s Mark Lynch as the new senior captain - with the toughest possible opening.
And it has been a mixed week of preparations for McIver with the news that highly promising forward Emmett Bradley is likely to miss most of the season after it was confirmed he requires surgery to overcome a troublesome groin injury. On a more positive note, Glenullin’s Eoin Bradley is fit to take his place in an attack which includes league debuts for Daniel Heavron and Ryan Bell following some impressive McKenna Cup displays.
Ryan Ferris and Carlus McWilliams also make first league starts in a youthful looking full-back line which McIver knows will be fully tested in Pearse Park.
“Galway away is a tough opener,” admitted the Derry boss.
“Looking at the division, Galway and Laois would probably be favourites for promotion. That’s also our two opening games so it shows you how tough this division is and how important a good start is. We’ll certainly get nothing easy on Sunday. However, training has been going well and I have confidence in the young squad we’ve assembled and the players we have available.”
In last season’s corresponding fixtures at Celtic Park, the ‘Tribesmen’ secured a morale boosting 1-15 to 1-11 victory but McIver’s first league selection is almost unrecognisable from the 15 that lined out last season. Missing are names such as Paddy Bradley, Conleith Gilligan, Joe Diver, James Conway and Danny Mulholland and the Derry manager stressed the need to hit the ground running.
“In terms of the league itself, it’s a cliché but you simply can’t look beyond your next game. We will prepare for each game to the best of our ability. If we can do that and perform as we can, then results will look after themselves. One game at a time for sure and we are not thinking beyond Galway and Sunday.
“In terms of injuries, we welcome back Eoin (Bradley) while Gerard O’Kane recently came through his first full 70 minutes against St. Mary’s in a challenge game at Celtic Park and is part of the squad for Sunday. We suffered injuries to Declan Mullan and Aidan McAlynn during the McKenna Cup but expect both of them to take part in our pitch sessions next week. Mark Craig has been doing so for a few weeks and is just getting back near match fitness.
“On the downside, the advice we got on Emmett (Bradley) was that he needed an operation and will be undergoing that procedure shortly but we expect it could rule him out for the majority of the season. It’s disappointing for us and for such a young, talented and dedicated player. However, Emmett is one for the future and we’ll do everything to ensure he is back in contention as soon as possible.”
McIver was critical of the timing of midweek Sigerson Cup fixtures which he believes is hindering preparation for a number of counties.
“I felt the timing of the first round of the Sigerson could have been better with respect to the commencement of the National League. Granted, a lot of counties are in the same boat, but when you are preparing for the second biggest competition that you will enter, you like to have a clear period of preparation. Having those games played in the week running into the first league game isn’t ideal. It’s possibly something for fixture planners to look at for again,” he added.
For their part Galway must plan without the services of Gareth Bradshaw (cartilage operation), Tom Flynn (cartilage repair), Conor Doherty (ankle surgery) and Kieran McGrath (leg break) while household names such as Padraig Joyce and Joe Bergin have retired from the county scene.
“We are a very young team and panel in the main and we will need the more experienced players like Finian (Hanley), Michael (Meehan), Seán (Armstrong) and Gary (Sice) to anchor us and lead the way,” explained the Galway boss.
“Our objective is to be extremely competitive and give every game the respect it deserves. We hope to be in contention for promotion and a league final place coming into the last few rounds of the league.
“There is a lot of hard work to be done and that work starts on Sunday. Derry will be difficult to beat; nevertheless, if we play as we believe we can, we are well capable of doing so,” added Mulholland.