CHRISTY RING CUP: Final can inspire next generation of Derry hurlers - Quigley

For Breandan Quigley, it wouldn’t matter if next Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup final against Kerry was played on a farmer’s field.

Forget the majesty of Croke Park or the usual trappings associated with an All Ireland final. For the Na Magha man and, you suspect, most of his team mates, this is all about Derry hurling.

Quigley is one of a band of experienced players - alongside the likes of Ruairi Convery and Kevin and Liam Og Hinphey - who have seen both sides of the hurling spectrum in the Oak Leaf county but whose commitment has rarely wavered.

It is an infectious commitment that was first tapped into by former manager Ger Rogan and which has been built on superbly by Tom McLean and his back room team this season. If deserve had anything to do with All Irelands, these Derry players would already have numerous titles.

Except it doesn’t and when the dust settles on what was a superb Derry performance against Down, McLean, Quigley and the rest of the squad know the final represents their biggest test of their Derry careers.

“Kerry are smashing hurling team as you seen with them defeating Antrim in the league promotion play-off,” explained Quigley, “I have no doubt they are going to be going in as favourites. They gave Kildare a bit of a trimming but, look, Down gave a good account of themselves against Kerry; we beat Down so we will be going out to win the game. Kerry can throw at us what they have and hopefully we will come out on top in the final. There are two teams there and any one can win it.”

Derry forward Aaron Kelly powers through a gap in the Down lines during Saturday's Christy Ring semi-final at Owenbeg. DER2215-127KM

Derry forward Aaron Kelly powers through a gap in the Down lines during Saturday's Christy Ring semi-final at Owenbeg. DER2215-127KM

The spirit McLean has instilled within the panel is one of its biggest assets and it was sorely tested against Down on Saturday during a game in which the sides were level nine times during the first half alone.

“It was tough,” adds Quigley, “But you could see the lads in our team weren’t going to give in. No matter what Down threw at us, we took it and just kept coming back at them. It is a testament to the work we’ve done all year and, to be honest with you, I never had any doubts.

“No matter what challenge was put in front of us, we had the men to meet it and if you are going to go into the ‘trenches’ as they say, these are the sort of men you want in beside you. That’s what we had in the semi-final.”

A thrilling first half saw the lead constantly change hands as Down forged ahead through an opportunist goal from Gareth ‘Magic’ Johnson before the Derry fight back was lead by the brilliant Paul Cleary who grabbed six points from play, and Convery, who led by example.

Down led by one at the break, 1-08 to 0-10, but there were excellent scores on both sides with the Derry defence yet again the foundation for victory as Conor McSorley continued his fine Christy Ring Cup form in a role protecting his full-back line.

Derry’s early second half blitz looked to have the home side in control but a goal from Down corner-forward James Coyle levelled proceedings at 2-08 to 0-14 midway through the second half. Questions were being asked but Derry found the answers. The victory could have been more emphatic had they accepted a couple of goal opportunities but this Derry team never likes to do things the easy way.

“We kept going to the ‘well’ and kept coming back up with the goods. Every man around that pitch kept digging in. The lads that came off the bench kept digging in. That’s why we have a panel. We have 30 lads here and, genuinely, it is nip and tuck whether you get a start every week. You are panicking in the decision making room and just hope your name is called out. That’s testament to the 30 players we have, pushing everybody on every night in training.

“The final is just reward. The back room team, as well, has done a superb job so hopefully we can go again next week and do the business.”

And for Quigley, a prospective win next Saturday would be about more than simply a long over due All Ireland title for this panel.

“It is massive. It is something we all want but especially for the lads who have basically spent 10 or 12 years in a Derry jersey. To get something back for that and to keep them interested; keep them pushing on the young players coming through. You had a lot of young kids in the stand there watching and if they think they can go on to win the Christy Ring and hopefully step up to the Liam McCarthy, well, that is going to turn their heads toward hurling and that is what we need. That’s what we want.”