WHERE once there was almost a struggle to fill jerseys, Derry Senior Hurling manager Ger Rogan is backing the rediscovered pride in Oak Leaf hurling to carry his team through to a Christy Ring Cup semi-final against Down.
Michael Wilson reports
Rogan’s team are aiming to bounce back from last week’s controversial four-point defeat to Wicklow which has set up tomorrow’s clash with London in Celtic Park (throw-in 2.00pm). The performance of Carlow referee Patrick Murphy in that defeat in Arklow left the Derry manager livid but rather than dwell on a display their manager labelled ‘wrong’, Rogan revealed his players have redoubled their efforts in training this week as they seek to build on a very positive National League campaign.
“The players themselves have created an environment in which each individual player does not want to let the others down and there is a great bond between the players now,” explained Rogan.
“There were 12 or 13 players present at Kevin Hinphey’s wedding recently but every one of them was home early and preparing for the Kildare game that weekend and that‘s a credit to the boys. We can make rules and tell the players how to look after themselves but at the end of the day it’s up to each of them individually because training doesn’t really stop when you leave Owenbeg. It is about how you eat, sleep and look after yourself and the players have been a credit to themselves and the county this season.
“The positive thing from our point of view is it seems to have got to the stage where we are no longer solely dependent on the big names within the squad. We have developed a really strong panel in which everyone is competing. The younger lads that have come in have grown in confidence and now feel at ease with those more experienced boys in the squad. Players like Charles Gilmore, Sean McGuigan, Michael Warnock and Leigh Hawkins have all come in and been exceptional. They have done everything asked of them.
“That’s why the likes of Kilkenny are successful. For them it is not about a team, it is about the strength of the squad. If a player is not doing it in training he is left out. That increases the intensity in training and the players enjoy training more because of that extra competition which shows in games. A player either gets drawn into the competition for places which begins in every training session or he falls away from the squad.
“In the past people maybe thought playing hurling for the county was a bit of a waste of their time, there seemed to be a chip on the shoulders about what other teams were getting but that is really none of our business and something I’ve never been interested in. Everyone of these players wants to hurl for Derry and is proud to do so which you can see in their commitment. Now we just have to focus on the job in hand.”
Derry will once again be without Kevin Hinphey for the game against London, the Dungiven man not expected back from honeymoon until early next week, while Conor Quinn is also likely to miss out through injury but Charles Gilmore, who missed the Wicklow match, may return.
Despite the obvious favourites tag, the Derry manager said he would be taking nothing for granted against the exiles.
“Emigration means London have an ever changing team but that has probably made them stronger this year than in previous seasons. People seem to think you are coming up against 15 boys from England but that is not the case, you are taking on hurlers from some of the strongest counties in the country, so it will be a seriously hard test.
“We are expecting nothing but a tough game. We defeated them by a point last year and it was not an easy game, it will probably be something similar this weekend. London will not be easy, the lad Flynn from Cork is a fine hurler and we know they have quality so we won’t be underestimating them.
“We are ready for a tough game but we have prepared well and have the goal of reaching an All Ireland semi-final to aim for.”
Having already defeated Down and Kildare this season, Derry would probably fall into the ‘dark horses’ category for the competition although Rogan reiterated his stance of not setting the team specific targets for the season.
“I think you have to be confident when you are approaching any game but there are any number of teams who will be confident they can win this competition. Kildare looked very handy when we played them recently and it was no surprise to see them beat Kerry but we have a really good squad now and the good thing for us is it is no longer about just 17 or 18 players.
“We have no fear over any of the players who can step in, they are all capable of coming in and doing an excellent job. Young Sean McNicholl and Breandan Quigley showed that last week but you also have players like Sean McCullagh or Shane Farren who are not starting at the minute but are really pushing for a place. That competition is good for everyone.
“I have said all season we are not setting targets and while I know it is a cliche I think it’s important not to look too far ahead because if you do, you are taking your eye off the job in hand and for us that is London.
“We are confident and if we produce the type of performance we are capable of then that will carry us through to a semi-final against Down who themselves are improving since we met them in the league,” he added.