Dermot McBride and Michael Friel should both be fit for Sunday’s crunch Allianz Football League Division Two clash with Westmeath in Mullingar on Easter Sunday (throw-in 2.30pm).
Michael Wilson reports
However, in keeping with how Oak Leaf luck has gone during what has been a disappointing league campaign to date, the duo’s timely return is offset by the loss of Ballinderry forward Conleith Gilligan, who this week underwent a groin operation that is likely to rule him out for up to three weeks.
It is a familiar tale for Oak Leaf manager John Brennan who admitted his frustration at how results how gone, though he still believes Derry should have been challenging for promotion.
“I am disappointed with how the league campaign has gone,” conceded the Derry manager, “After the way we were playing in the McKenna Cup I thought promotion was a real possibility but we left points behind in too many matches.
“We left bad points behind in the games against Galway and Kildare and again, against Louth last time out, we dropped a point we shouldn’t have.
“Possibly a bit of inexperience cost us in those matches but regardless of the players we had missing we should have been strong enough to be challenging and am slightly disappointed that some of the players did not come up to the standard we thought they would.
“The players have given their all and those who have come in did well but we have to make sure we are stronger for the Championship.
Derry currently sit fourth in the Division Two table on five points but crucially only one point above Sunday’s opponents who are bottom. That leaves five teams still sweating on their Division Two futures ahead of the last round of fixtures. With two of those, Meath and Louth, facing each other in Páirc Tailteann this weekend, it realistically means Derry are among three teams (Westmeath and Monaghan being the other two) who trying to avoid the one remaining spot. For Brennan, though, the mathematics are simple - defeat Westmeath and nothing anyone else does matters.
“The scenario for us is very simple, we have to go and win the game. If we manage to win we might end up in third position and that would be a reasonable achievement given the sort of troubles we’ve had with injuries and things.
“Dermot (McBride) and Michael (Friel) should hopefully be fit but we will be without Conleith for a few weeks though that seems to be the way it has gone for us recently. We get two back and another one goes out.
“Westmeath were defeated last time out but I don’t want to concentrate too much on the opposition, the end result is we have to go to Mullingar and get the result we need. If we do that then there is nothing any of the other teams can do about our position and we won’t have to look at other results.”
The return of Friel, whose late injury in the draw with Louth at Celtic Park proved the game’s turning point, is a major boost to the side’s ball winning capability in midfield. McBride, who has been troubled by injury since this year’s McKenna Cup Final, could come in at corner-back to shore up a full-back line that got little protection against Louth which may release Brian McCallion into the half-backs.
Derry will depart for Galway on Saturday and stay over night to prepare for a game that they cannot afford to lose but one which presents the perfect opportunity to end the league on a high note.
“As I said, the league has disappointed me but there is no time to think too much about it. We have Westmeath on Sunday and we need to concentrate on getting the job done and I believe we should have players good enough to do that,” added the Derry manager.