Brian McIver’s Derry would ensure a mouth-watering showdown against Division Two pace setters, Westmeath, next month should they manage to emerge with two points against Louth later today. (Throw-in 2.00pm)
McIver’s Oak Leaf made light work of Longford in Celtic Park last Sunday but should his team defeat Louth in Drogheda they would give themselves a great chance of returning to Division One of the Allianz National Football League on April 7.
“Sunday is a big game for both Louth and Derry,” said the Ballinderry man.
“Louth have had some tremendous results this year, most notably last week against Armagh and also in a six point defeat of Galway earlier in the year.
“Drogheda will be a tough place to go as many have found out over the past few years in both league and championship,” he said.
The Oak Leafers will be without the services of in-form half-back Mark Lynch, who suffered a hand injury.
“Mark sustained two broken bones in his hand during the Longford game,” confirmed McIver.
“He is expected to be out for four to six weeks.
“Losing a player like Mark is obviously a setback but it’s also chance for others now to step up to the plate.
“Mark has shown tremendous leadership all year and towards the end of last year. However, we need an entire squad of leaders and it is up to the other fellas to fill that space until Mark returns.”
Newbridge man Michael Bateson will fill in for Lynch at centre-half-back while McIver’s only other change to the side that beat Longford sees Emmet McGuckin replaced by Ballinderry’s Raymond Wilkinson.
Wilkinson impressed with a cameo towards the end of last week’s victory over Longford and McIver will be hoping for more of the same in Drogheda later on this afternoon.
The omission of McGuckin, who had picked up a couple of niggling injuries, may see a shift in attacking emphasis with no out-and-out target man named, but the Derry manager stressed he was picking his team based on performance, both in matches and in training.
“It’s important to us that we have lads who can come off the bench to make an impact. I’m happy with the all lads who have been doing that all year. Following his second half inclusion last week against Longford, and on the basis of that display and training, Raymond (Wilkinson) comes into the starting line-up for Sunday.”
Elsewhere, Derry’s senior hurling manager, Ger Rogan believes the outcome of today’s National Hurling League game with Laois will determine his side’s hopes of reaching the Division 2A final. (Throw-in 1pm)
“The games are coming thick and fast now but we are enjoying it,” explained Rogan,
“We are not looking any further than Laois this weekend. We are 100 per cent focused on Laois and I believe this is a game we can win, I don’t see any reason why not.
“Sometimes with the young players we have it’s a case of them not being used to playing at this level but then, in games, you can almost see them realise they are as good as these teams they are playing against. When that happens they start to believe and you get the sort of hurling we have played in patches this season.
“Last season we wanted to consolidate our position in this division which we did quite comfortably but this year we wanted to push on. That was made all the more difficult by losing those 13 players, many of whom were experienced county hurlers, and we are chuffed to bits with how the season has gone so far. The young players who have come in have been superb.”
The Oak Leafers beat Kildare by three points last weekend courtesy of an amazing performance form Na Magha’s Alan Grant.
“We haven’t hurled for more than 35 minutes in any one league game this season. Even against Westmeath, that was a game we could have won because we had some good spells during the game.
“It has been great to see the impact the players have made coming off the bench as well. Last week everyone was pointing to Alan (Grant) and his four points late on but young Chrissy Spiers was superb after coming on. It’s all these factors that help swing the game in your favour and that’s something we have seen in a couple of our games.
“When you talk about losing 13 players from last season, that is a panel ripped apart but these young players have stepped up. Players like Brendan Rodgers who has been superb, Niall Ferris, Paul Cleary - they are only out of minor and under 21 hurling but they have been superb. I always say to the players that if you believe in your own ability to compete then you can move forward. Last Saturday after the Kildare match you could feel the mood in the dressing room, it was excellent after a game in which we weren’t hurling that well but had dug deep, turned the game around and got a very good win in the end.”
Elsewhere, the GAA’s annual congress has been taking place in Derry this weekend. The Derry County Board are celebrating their 125th anniversary and opted to mark the milestone by hosting the event during during Derry’s year as City of Culture.
Welcoming this historic occasion Chairman of Derry County Board John Keenan said:“It is a privilege for me to welcome Congress to Derry for the time first in our county’s long and storied history.
“It is particularly fitting that this event takes place in the year of the 125th anniversary of GAA in County Derry and alongside the Derry City of Culture 2013 celebrations,” he said.