NA MAGHA manager Dee Doherty believes an historic first Ulster Hurling title could provide future generations with a sound foundation from which to take the club forward.
Michael Wilson reports
The City men make their debut appearance in a provincial decider in Casement Park on Sunday where they take on Co. Down champions, Bredagh, who will have more than a familiar look about them.
Doherty’s men are likely to be facing at least three Derry men in Belfast with Ballinascreen native Paul Kelly, Swatragh’s Malachy Scullion and - most ironically of all - former Na Magha and Derry star Paudie Gallagher.
“Before their semi-final I contacted Paudie to wish him well and I was chatting to him before the game itself but since we both made the final his phone has gone very silent!” laughed Doherty this week.
“I will shake his hand after the game but for the 60 minutes Paudie is a Bredagh player and he will get no special treatment from anyone at Na Magha but I’m sure Paudie will be thinking the same way about us.”
After losing out in last week’s Derry Intermediate final to a McGoldrick inspired Eoghan Rua, Doherty is backing his players to bounce back in what, for most, will be the biggest game they have played in.
“We’re confident enough going into the final but we were confident as well going into the Derry final and got defeated so we will take nothing for granted. However, I believe if you are going into an Ulster final, or any final for that matter, you have to go in confidence.
“We will not get anything easy from Bredagh but we have a good panel of players. If you have a look through our panel we have nine or 10 players who had all played at Casement Park for their county so neither the occasion nor opposition should hold any fear.
“We will respect Bredagh. They were playing senior hurling in Down last season against some very good teams so they are used to a very good standard of hurling and they have a number a Derry hurlers.
“Malachy Scullion did well in the semi-final for them and will be a threat but I have more than enough confidence in our six backs who will be in defence on Sunday and if they don’t do it, there are players waiting to come on.
“That’s one of the big differences from last year against Burt in the Ulster semi-final. We now have real options all over the pitch and last week was an example. The boys that came in did well but it is not just players coming off the bench, we have players we can fill in a variety of positions which gives us the choice to change things if we need it.”
Doherty accepted personal responsibility for last week’s 4-12 to 4-09 defeat to Eoghan Rua in Dungiven. The Na Magha manager said he fully accepted his hesitation in making positional changes after a blistering start by the Coleraine men probably cost his team the title.
“Barring the result we came through the Eoghan Rua game without injuries which was probably the only silver lining on the day. After it I put my hands up and took responsibility, I didn’t react quickly enough to make changes when I should. There was couple of boys being caught for pace and I should have changed things earlier but Eoghan Rua really went for the jugular in the first 15 minutes and when you’re 11 points down, you’re playing catch up for the rest of the game.
“To be fair I think last week will stand to us on Sunday because Eoghan Rua are a quality team with some fantastic hurlers and had we not started so poorly it would have been very different.
“The boys were a bit down on Saturday night and Sunday but we have had a couple of good sessions this week and that game is well out of our systems now. All our focus this week has been on Bredagh.”
Na Magha qualified for the Final - which precedes the senior final between Loughiel and Portaferry - thanks to a routine victory over Strabane Shamrocks on the same day Bredagh were winning 3-18 to 2-08 against St. Enda’s of Antrim.
“I got the opportunity to watch Bredagh in their semi-final but St Enda’s were not great so it was hard to gauge what level they were at. We know they will be coming into this game thinking exactly the same things as us and they will believe they can win the Championship. That said, I don’t like to think too much about the opposition. I prefer to concentrate on our own strengths and getting our game right. I won’t be concentrating on Bredagh because I have confidence in my own players.”
With a place in February’s All Ireland semi-final on the line, Doherty admitted the opportunity to compete on a national stage is something that doesn’t come round every season.
“For Na Magha, this is a massive, massive game. It is an Ulster final, the first in the club’s history and while some people might say it is only the Junior final, this is the level we are play at. We are only 60 minutes from an All Ireland Series which again would be massive for the club though we haven’t been looking that far ahead. “The way the Derry Championship is played makes it hard to get motivated for so we target the Ulster competitions and especially the Championship.
“A victory on Sunday could set a benchmark at the club for others to follow. The young players would be able to look and say, ‘They won an Ulster Junior title, let’s push on and try to compete at Intermediate level.’ That’s how a club moves forward.”
One of the key men for Na Magha will be midfielder Alan Grant who recently picked up a Christy Ring All Star award following some superb performances for Derry.
“The Christy Ring All Star is a superb and well deserved recognition for Alan. It’s a tremendous honour for the player and for our club but Alan never makes a big deal about these things. He has been superb for us this season and will be important again on Sunday but it is not about individual players and I have every confidence in all my players,” he added.