Derry travel to Healy Park, Omagh tomorrow afternoon (3.30pm) to face Tyrone in the quarter final of the Ulster Senior hurling championship.
It will be the first time the North West counties have met at senior championship level and it comes at a time when, after their very existence as a hurling county was being questioned by legislators within the O’Neill County because of their dismal record in 2010, Tyrone are riding on the crest of a wave.
With former Lavey and Derry hurling legend Tom Magill at the helm, they face Derry after promotion from Division 4 and NHL Div 4 final victory. They are also in the semi-final of the Lory Meaghar Cup.
However the Lavey man, who won several Derry SHC medals as a player and is a former successful manager with Lavey and the Derry senior hurling team, will know that no matter the travails that Derry have undergone in recent games with suspensions and injuries, they will be a huge step up in class from anything that the O’Neill County has met to date.
After a good league run took them to the Division 3 league final Derry’s fortunes have somewhat waned, defeats by Wicklow in the league decider and then for a third time by the Garden County when they met in the Christy Ring Cup after Derry caused a major upset against Down, the forerunner to last Sunday’s heavy defeat against Kildare.
And Oak Leaf manager Ger Rogan is sweating over a number of players for the opener. Team captain Kevin Hinphey and Ruairi Convery are definitely out through suspension while Anton Rafferty will also miss the game with a broken collar bone. Kevin Lynch’s Ciaran Mackle lined out at midfield against Kildare but was carried off in the last minute with a heavily strapped ankle, so he too must be considered very doubtful.
Paddy Kelly with a shoulder injury, Paddy McCloskey with a groin injury and Paddy Henry with a hamstring injury were not risked against Kildare but it remains to be seen how many of this important trio will be fit.
On the plus side Liam Og Hinphey came on as a substitute against Kildare early in the second half and played the remainder of the game without any adverse reaction and it is likely he will be in the starting 15 at Healy Park (Saturday, 3.30pm), a huge boost for Derry.
Conor Quinn started against Kildare, came off during the game and then rejoined the fray at a later stage. He has been out of action for a while, so the influential full back will not be risked unless his hamstring problems are fully cleared up.
Rogan knows his side go in as favourites but warned Tyrone should not be underestimated.
“Tyrone will be looking forward to it,” he explained, “They are undefeated and doing very well. They’ve got a good manager in Tom Magill and will be fired up.
“We’re not playing badly at all though. We’re just struggling with injuries and suspensions and that’s very difficult. At the same time we’ll be looking to get over Saturday and then get a break of a week or two to get everybody back and get our squad fit.”
Rogan acknowledged the difference in standard between Divisions Four and Three but claimed it would count for nothing if the Oak Leafers did not apply themselves correctly.
“There is but in saying that, you have to earn the right to show that difference. You just don’t’ turn up on the field and think that you’re going to win the game by 25 points just on the basis that you’re playing two divisions above. You have to earn that right and that’s something we will have to do against Tyrone.”
“The only way to approach any game is to give the opposition the respect they’re entitled to and Tyrone deserve all the respect that we are going to give them. When you do that, when you show the respect that is due, then your responses don’t dip. It’s when you show a lack of respect that’s when your game goes off. When you start in first or second gear it’s very hard to get up into fifth.”
Rogan refused to lay the blame for Derry’s recent downturn in results on their injury and suspension misfortunes.
“You’re looking to try and get a squad. It’s not about key players missing. It’s about losing options when you have players missing.
“You can move players about the field and strengthen up the side. It’s been very difficult with the options that we’ve had and we only had four fit players on the side-line. It is what it is though and you’ve just got to deal with it,” he added.