JOHN Brennan is backing his injury-hit Derry team to beat the bookies as he maps out a path towards promotion to Division One.
Michael Wilson reports
Brennan’s Oak Leaf squad begin their Division Two campaign with a tough looking opening against Alan Mulholland’s Galway at Celtic Park on Sunday (throw-in 2.30 p.m.) with a number potential starters ruled out through injury.
John McCamley, Eoin Bradley, Dermot McBride and Gerard O’Kane, who had a scan on Wednesday, are just some of the names the Lavey man would liked to have included but of that quartet only McBride has a realistic chance of facing the ‘Tribesmen’ this weekend.
The Derry manager was yesterday waiting on the outcome of last night’s appeal by James Conway against the red card he received in last weekend’s McKenna Cup final defeat to Tyrone before finalising his line-up.
In a division which also includes Kildare, Tyrone and Meath, points will not be easily won with some bookmakers quoting Derry as fifth favourites to top the league.
“Promotion is the target and even if we finish second in what looks a very difficult league, I will be very happy,” admitted Brennan.
“The bookies are very wise men and they have us down to finish fifth which shows the strength of teams in this division but it would be nice to prove that prediction wrong.
“Galway is a tough opener but I’m just hoping we get no more injuries because at the minute we’re struggling to name a panel of 26 players. We are down to the bare bones though, hopefully, one or two might come back for Sunday. Dermot McBride is the latest doubt, but we’ve have had very bad luck with injuries.”
The Derry manager stressed the importance of making home advantage pay, beginning with this Sunday’s opener.
“This is it, the start of the real business if you like. It is mandatory that we win our three home games in what is going to be a very tight league. We have four games away this season and we need to try and maximise our home games and then look to pick up points away from home.
“We enjoyed a good McKenna Cup campaign but it would be great to get a settled team together. John McCamley and Gerard O’Kane, players like this are hard to replace but we have to go and make the most out of the players we have available to us. Work ethic is the key, we have to continue to work hard.
“Galway can be a very awkward team, a very physical side and hard to play against but we need to make sure we get off to a good start on Sunday.”
Last Saturday’s deafet was Derry’s first in the McKenna Cup under the guidance of the Lavey man and he doesn’t want his players dwelling on the loss.
“I hope the players don’t take anything negative from last week’s game. It was their second final in two years and it’s just one game we lost in controversial circumstances. Up until the sending off I thought we were very comfortable and, hopefully, the players will take the positives from it.
“Galway were relegated last year and will probably be hurting from that so they’ll want to start well but I haven’t seen too much of them. They are an unknown quantity. I won’t know until I get a look at their team sheet to see if they are any familiar names on it but regardless of who they have and who they don’t, they are a county team and will get the respect they deserve. We are expecting a tough game.
The ‘Tribesmen’ were relegated from the top flight under the stewardship of Tomás Ó Flatharta last season following a poor league campaign, which saw them pick up just a solitary victory along the way.
But after a promising FBD League campaign which saw victories over IT Sligo, London and Sligo, hopes in the county are high for a positive start to the year. The return of some experienced players like Nicky Joyce, Niall Coleman and Barry Cullinane has been complemented by the introduction of many of last year’s Under-21 side.
New manager, Mulholland, is expected to announce Finian Hanley as captain, ending last season’s policy of Ó Flatharta who named three joint skippers.
“We treated the FBD League games as trials. It is all eyes on Derry at this stage and it would be great to get off to a good start but it is going to be very difficult up in Celtic Park.
“They are on a good run in the McKenna Cup and they had a good run last year, so it is going to be very difficult for us up there but we are going to do our best,” said Mulholland.