Bank Of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Section A: Derry V Armagh (Sunday, Owenbeg, 2pm)
It will be an new look Derry that lines up against Armagh for Sunday’s 2017 Dr. McKenna Cup opener with only two of that players that began the Oak Leafers’ last championship match in the starting 15.
Niall Loughlin and Emmet McGuckin are the sole survivors from that heartbreaking defeat to Tipperary after Damian Barton and his management team turned to youth following a close season during which assistant manager Brian McGuckin believes too much focus has been on players who have opted out of the panel.
Several high profile departures had pundits writing Derry off even before the end of 2016 and while McGuckin concedes that the McKenna Cup side will be “relatively inexperience” he is confident the players have the ability to make their mark in the inter-county game.
Former minor keeper Ben McKinless starts in nets while there are also places for Loup’s Patrick Coney, Craigbane midfielder Aidy McLaughlin, Glen duo Jack Doherty and Oisin Hegarty, and Banagher’s Gavin O’Neill in an experimental looking line-up.
“We are raring to go at this stage,” explained McGuckin, “We are fielding a relatively inexperienced side this weekend due to the fact we have brought in quite a few young players to the squad.
“However, we see the Armagh game as great opportunity to provide these players with experience and exposure to the senior inter-county set-up.
“It’s very much about the 2017 panel now rather than last year’s. People seem to have been talking about last year’s squad and the players who are no longer with us but those boys have all been replaced with young players, all full of enthusiasm and willing to learn .
“Technically, they are all very gifted footballers as well, so we are looking forward to getting them out and getting them plenty of game time in the McKenna Cup.”
McGuckin is keen that Derry look forward rather than back but admitted he felt there was a touch of revisionism in how some have described a frustrating year for the Oak Leafers.
“Obviously the Tyrone game was a bad day at the office and we all took it extremely badly but I thought we responded well to that game and we went on a decent run through the Qualifiers. We were very unfortunate because we were only a kick of the ball away from an All Ireland Quarter-final.
“Our aim as a management team for this year is to build on that. We have had plenty of media exposure as regards the players that have left but we are very excited about the players that have come in and, to date, they have shown a lot to be content with.
“The McKenna Cup this year is to blood those young players and get them experience in preparation for the National League because I would expect our National League team to see a lot of new ‘blood’ in it.
“I would expect to see a number of young players who will be trying to stake their claim for a place in the Derry senior team.
“We have brought in maybe 15 Under 21 players and these players are certainly in the right place as regards their development. They are not maybe where we need them to be at present in terms of the senior team but it is going to be a process for them and they are all heading in the right direction.”
Derry are also planning without their Slaughtneil contingent as the Emmet’s go in search of double All Ireland glory and McGuckin conceded the club’s success has been a mixed blessing for the county set-up.
“What Slaughtneil have achieved has been absolutely fantastic but from a very selfish point of view, it has been a hindrance to us. It is what it is however and it will give other players an opportunity.
“The Slaughtneil club and the players deserve all the success they get and they will be back with us at some point. Hopefully it is an extended journey for them with their club but they will certainly be welcomed back with open arms whenever they are available.”
Sunday will be the second meeting of Derry and Armagh this season following a December O Fiaich Cup meeting, won by Kieran McGeeney’s team. The Orchard County men hit 5-30 over their two games in the competition and will welcome back Crossmaglen duo Jamie Clarke and James Morgan for the new season.
“We played Armagh in the O’Fiaich Cup and one thing we learned from the game was the physicality that Armagh brought, it was a bit of a shock to us that day.
“I would like to think this week we will be able to cope in that we will be better prepared and ready for it.
“You want to create a winning culture within the group and from that respect the result is always important but, as I have said, the primary aim is to get players out on the pitch, introduce young players and try to get our systems of play in place,” added McGuckin.
The Derry team to play Armagh on Sunday (Owenbeg, 2pm) is;
1. Ben McKinless (B’derry)
2. Oisin Hegarty (Glen)
3. Oisin Duffin (Ballinderry)
4. Peter Hagan (Banagher)
5. Patrick Coney (Loup)
6. Jack Doherty (Glen)
7. Neil Forester (Steelstown)
8. Gavin O’Neill (Banagher)
9. Aidan McLaughlin (Craigbane)
10. Michael Warnock (Glen)
11. Niall Loughlin (Greenlough)
12. Carlus McWilliams (B’screen)
13. Ryan Bell (B’derry)
14. Emmett McGuckin (M’felt)
15. Benny Heron (B’screen)
16. Thomas Mallon (Loup); 17. Patrick Kearney (Swatragh); 18. Enda Lynn (Greenlough); 19. Conor Nevin (Ballinderry); 20. Mark Lynch (Banagher); 21. Conor McGrogan (Newbridge); 22. Ronan Murphy (Ballinascreen); 23. Mark Craig (Dungiven); 24. Ciaran Mullan (Coleraine); 25. Fergal Higgins (Dungiven); 26. Conor McLarnon