PADDY BRADLEY and Mark Lynch are expected to be restored to the Derry starting line-up this weekend as the Oak Leafers go in search of victory over Meath to keep their promotion hopes alive (Celtic Park, Sunday, 2.30pm).
MICHAEL WILSON reports
Neither forward started the disappointing defeat to Donegal two weeks ago but after coming through the opening round of league fixtures for their respective clubs unscathed, they will be fit to start against Seamus McEnaney’s struggling side.
The return of Bradley is likely to see the unfortunate Caolan O’Boyle drop to the bench despite his impressive 2-01 against the Tír Conaill. Either Marty Donaghy, if fit, or Ciaran McGoldrick will make way for Lynch in the half-forwards, the Claudy man’s recent good form perhaps making him slight favourite to retain the shirt providing he shakes off an injury picked up for his club last week.
Elsewhere, Eoin Bradley is missing through suspension while Michael Friel should continue alongside PJ McCloskey in the midfield for a game manager John Brennan admits is crucial for both counties.
“This game against Meath is a ‘must-win’ for both teams and we have to be up for it,” explained the Lavey man.
“This is a crucial fixture for us. If we win, we are then in with a good shout of being involved in the promotion shake-up but if we lose it is another season in Division Two, which is not what we were looking for.”
The league table could not be more delicately poised with the top five teams all in with a shout at going up. Donegal lead the way on eight points and victory over Antrim should see them safely into the league final. Kildare are a point behind but face Tyrone, one of three sides including Derry on six points. The other, Laois, travel to Sligo but a defeat now for any of the sides chasing Donegal will likely spell the end of their promotion bid.
The Derry manager will be looking for a vastly improved defensive display against Meath after what he described as ‘unsatisfactory’ performance last time out against Jim McGuinness’ men.
“We still have a number of injury concerns and won’t be making any definite team decisions until after Thursday night’s training session,” added Brennan.
“Following the Donegal game there are a number of areas we have been looking at, the main one being making sure we are not so generous in giving away goals again. We’ve had problems getting a settled panel and it’s far from ideal but there is no point worrying about it, we have to just get on with things.
“I saw Meath playing against Antrim and in the first half they looked very good but for some reason they lost their way in the second half and Antrim came back. You can only go on their last game though and against Kildare, who we know are a good team, they showed what they can do. It was a very close game, they were unlucky and there is no danger of us taking them lightly but we’re going out to get two points. If we do that we’ll see where it takes us.”
Meath have been boosted by the return of Graham and Kevin Reilly after they missed the games against Donegal and Kildare.
“We had Graham Reilly back training last week and he came through his club match unscathed. We are hoping to have Kevin Reilly back in full training this week, but the Derry game might come too soon. Seamus Kenny also took a bit of knock playing for Simonstown, but I’m hopeful he will also be okay,” McEnaney explained.
“Stephen Bray will be back from his honeymoon on Friday, but he is unlikely to feature against Derry and we have lost David Bray for the year, that is very disappointing.
“Our performance against Kildare was good, except for the result. We need a good performance against Derry and we need to win. Our away form is poor, but we broke our run of good form in Navan against Donegal, so hopefully next Sunday we can break our run of bad form,” he concluded.