NEIL Forrester is expected make his senior county debut in tomorrow’s Dr. McKenna Cup against Jordanstown in Celtic Park and the Steelstown half-back confessed he cannot wait to pull on the Derry jersey against hisalma mater. (Throw-in 6.00 p.m.)
Michael Wilson reports
The Glenmore Park student has impressed John Brennan and his coaching team in training since being drafted into the panel following his superb performances throughout the Pairc Bhrid club’s run to senior football.
It had been expected the 21-year-old would be lining out against his native county this weekend but Forrester - who was sounded out back in November - said there was never any question once Derry, or more precisely, Barry Dillon, had come calling.
A beaten All-Ireland Minor finalists from 2007, when Derry agonisingly lost out to Galway by a single point, with a team that included Steelstown team-mates Mickey McKinney and Stephen Cleary, Forrester has represented his county throughout the underage levels but admitted it would be a dream come true to get a chance to test himself at Senior level.
“The call from Barry came right out of the blue,” admitted Neil, “I had been talking to him last season when I was playing for the Under 21s against Monaghan. We were well beaten and I thought that game might be the last time I got to wear the Derry jersey, but when Barry called I would never say ‘no’ to playing for Derry.
“Steelstown were still in the hunt for promotion when I was asked if I would be interested in joining the senior panel after the Christmas break. I didn’t have to think twice.
“Once I had spoken to Barry, I made the decision not to get overly involved at Jordanstown because I only ever wanted to pull on the Derry jersey.”
Despite his elevation to the senior panel after a year which saw the city club promoted to the senior ranks for the first time in their history, Forrester is well aware that the hard graft is only just beginning.
“There’s no doubt it is a big step up, even in terms of fitness. I always tend to think I’m a step behind, but I have been busting a gut to get as fit as possible. I have really enjoyed the training. It’s hard but even the training sessions help to bring me on as a player.
“The physical side does not worry me. I know I have work to do in term of strength training but I‘ve been working hard and I’m itching to get my chance. I want to test myself and see if I can play at the highest level.”
Forrester was at Celtic Park for last week’s victory over Cavan and said he was not surprised but the team spirit as Derry recovered from Eugene Scullion’s harsh red card to win.
“The other players have been very supportive. They’ve made a point of welcoming me in and a few have congratulated Steelstown on our promotion, so I feel quite comfortable within the group. When you see these players close up, and the work they put in, it’s only then you realise just how good they are and that’s what I have to aim for.
“I don’t think I’ve done too badly in training and will just try to take everything as it comes. I’m under no illusion that the real hard work begins now.
“Every game I wear the Derry jersey I look on it as possibly being my last opportunity, that way I might be able to get an extra 10 per cent out of myself if my opportunity comes along.”
The Steelstown man warned that, if selected, he will be expecting a tough test.
“I know some of the Jordanstown players well, especially the Derry lads like Carlus McWiliams and Dermot McGuckin and I know just how good a side they can be. There were players at Jordanstown I wasn’t aware of until I went to the University but I quickly found out just how good they were and they will be ahead of the counties in terms of preparation.
“If John selects me to play, I will play for the team wherever he needs me and try to carry out the role he wants as best I can, but I wouldn’t class ourselves as big favourites. I know the Jordanstown panel and how good their players are so I’m expecting a very tight game. You only have to look at last weekend’s result against Donegal to see they are a very good team.”
From a personal perspective, the city man said his involvement with the Senior county panel could only benefit him as he prepares for a first taste of Senior club football with Steelstown
“The whole of last season seems to have been a huge step up. We targeted promotion and it was the first season I could honestly say I would’ve taken promotion over a Championship medal. It was more important to the development of the club and the players.
“I probably won’t think too much about the game until it is over, but playing for Derry is the sort of thing you dream about as a young player. I’ve been very lucky to work under some great managers at the different age levels with the county and playing at Senior level would certainly be one of the highlights of my career.”
Despite his imminent debut, Forrester said he is looking no further forward than the McKenna Cup.
“As a player you always have to test yourself so I will be delighted if I get that opportunity although I didn’t think it would come quite so soon.
“I’m not even thinking about selection for the league panel. I’m over the moon to be involved in the McKenna Cup and those other things will take care of themselves. I haven’t thought past pulling on a Derry jersey again but if I get the chance I want to take it,” he added.