JOHN Brennan has challenged the new faces in his panel to prove they are worth a place in Derry’s National League squad as the Oak Leafers begin their McKenna Cup defence - weather permitting - against Cavan at Celtic Park on Sunday (throw-in 2.00pm).
Michael Wilson reports
As well as the eight newcomers to the squad, Brennan also welcomes back Paddy Bradley but confirmed he would not consider the Glenullin All Star for the weekend opener.
“Paddy Bradley will not play on Sunday but there will be a number of new faces in the panel,” explained the Lavey man.
The new players named in the initial panel are Eugene Scullion and Colin Murray of Bellaghy, Kilrea duo Liam Morrow and Paul Morgan, Philip McGlade of Ballinascreen, John McCamley from Watty Graham’s, Kevin O’Neill of Lavey and Ballinderry Shamrocks Kevin ‘Moss’ McGuckin, the man most people would claim was last year’s ‘Player of the Tournament’ in the Derry Senior Football Championship.
Added to those eight are the returning trio of Mark Craig from Dungiven, Enda Lynn of Greenlough and Bellaghy’s Eoghan Brown, a threesome who have all played Championship football in the past.
“We have a new look panel and there will have plenty of new faces but I can’t predict how things are going to go because you never know if a player can step up to inter-county football until you throw them into it,” explained the Derry manager.
“I have brought in a number of new players and they will all get their chance over the course of the McKenna Cup but it is difficult to say too much because, at this minute in time, we have not seen how certain players operate in matches at this level.”
Brennan began his reign as manager with last year’s victory in the same competition, something he wants to see repeated in 2012. Derry defeated Tyrone in a delayed final last year in Armagh and a similar run would be welcomed by Brennan as he prepares for the National league.
“The McKenna Cup is the build-up to the league, that starts now and we want to win the McKenna Cup again. The competition served us well last year and hopefully we will get more than the three group games. We want to win the group and see where that takes us. It is about fitness as well, but there is fitness and there is match fitness.
“Winning games is always a priority and the McKenna Cup is no different. Remember we only lost three games throughout last year and, okay, two of those were in the Championship but it shows there was a good level of consistency there.
“You want to start positive. It can set the trend for the year but there is no point making predictions or saying too much at this stage of the year. We are only at the start. All I can do is offer the players an opportunity, it is up to them to prove they can play inter-county football.”
With injuries to last year’s Championship winning midfield duo of Joe Diver and Michael Friel, Derry will field a new partnership on Sunday with ‘Moss’ McGuckin likely to make his debut.
Sunday’s game is a repeat of last season’s McKenna Cup group tie which Derry won 1-12 to 1-10 in Kingspan Breffni Park. That victory saw the return of Val Andrews as Cavan manager and the Dublin native feels his adopted county now has a better platform from which to go forward than this time last year.
“The team management is better off now than we were last January in the sense that it’s a year on and we know more about the fellas at our disposal,” claimed Andrews, “We’ve a good set-up and have got good lads on board and we’re pushing on.”
McKenna Cup Fixtures
Following Sunday’s opener against Cavan, Derry are scheduled to meet UUJ at Celtic Park next Saturday evening at 6.00pm before finishing their group games with a repeat of last year’s Ulster final against Donegal on Wednesday, January 18th. That game will take place in Ballybofey with a 7.30pm start.
The semi-finals and finals of this year’s McKenna Cup will take place on Saturday 21st and Saturday 28th of January respectively.