DERRY manager John Brennan welcomes back Kevin McCloy as the Oak Leafers begin life in the Allianz Football League Division Two with the visit of old foes Tyrone to Celtic Park on Sunday (throw-in 2.30pm).
MICHAEL WILSON reports
The former All Star missed the recent McKenna Cup victories over Monaghan and Antrim due to a family holiday but should rejoin a squad that is likely to be boosted by a number of the university players such as Charlie Kielt or Caolan O’Boyle.
The Derry manager (right) will not name his stating line-up for Sunday until tonight but is likely to keep faith with the players who have enjoyed such a positive start to the season as Derry seek an immediate return to the top flight.
“We are still stuck to the McKenna panel but we’ve made a few alterations for what is a vital league game against Tyrone,” explained the Lavey man.
“We’ve have been winning games so it would not be sensible to make too many changes to a winning squad. Kevin is back and we had the university players back with us for the first time this week. We had the whole squad together on Tuesday night for the first time this year and it was good to see the players back.”
The new campaign may only be weeks old but already Brennan is facing a packed schedule as he attempts to juggle his playing staff across four competitions.
“At the moment we are trying to work off four panels which is really complicated. We still have the McKenna final coming up which we are looking forward to, we are trying to finalise our league panel and we have players who will be involved with Sigerson squads. As well as that our Under-21s have an Ulster Championship preliminary clash against Armagh on March 9th and we have three or four of that squad who have strong claims to be involved with the senior panel.
“Working off so many panels is not ideal and we have to try and be fair to every one but it is not easy to get the right mix. The sooner we get to Easter the better.
“We’ll be down to three panels after next weekend. I said before the McKenna Cup started I wanted the extra game and it was great to get an excellent match against Antrim last weekend but we could have done without the next game coming right in the middle of the league.”
Derry go into this weekend’s opener with no new injury worries which is in stark contrast to the O’Neill County who are likely to be without Philip Jordan for their first four fixtures following a hip operation while both the McMahon brothers, Joe and Justin, have been ruled out by hamstring injuries.
Despite that considerable injury list, there is no danger of Brennan - who still has Enda Muldoon, Eoin Bradley and Patsy Bradley unavailable - taking Mickey Harte’s men lightly.
“We’ll be going out to win every single game,” explained the Derry manager, “I have had a look at the teams in Division Two and in Division One and, of course, there are some of the higher Division teams I would have liked to have played against but there are some good teams in Division Two.
“Looking at the way the league works, it seems to be the third and fourth games which are the vital ones. They are the deciding factor as to whether you are facing a promotion battle or a relegation fight.
“We’ll know a lot more after Sunday when we come up against a vastly experienced Tyrone side. Some of their players have three All Ireland medals while some of our players will only be in their third inter-county game but every game is 50/50 at the start. Yes, they are a very good side but I wouldn’t be surprised if we won although it will be very difficult.
“We face a massive task in this division. We are up against some very good teams. As well as Tyrone, we have to meet the likes of Kildare who were only the kick of a ball away from an All Ireland final last year, so we know we have some tough games coming up,” he added.