NA MAGHA quartet - Alan Grant, Leigh Hawkins, Breandán Quigley and Barry Robinson - have all been included on the Derry Senior Hurling panel which begins it’s Allianz National League Division 2A campaign with a tough trip to Wicklow on Sunday. (Throw-in 2.30 p.m.)
Michael Wilson reports
Ger Rogan will be without the services of injured trio Kevin Hinphey, Paddy Henry and Cathal McKeever for the game which will also see the return to county action of five Ballinascreen players.
Of the City players, Grant is likely to start in the half-forwards with Hawkins a strong contender for a spot in one of the defensive lines.
Sunday’s game will be the first meeting of the sides since the Garden County defeated Derry in last year’s Division 3A League Final Play-off in Longford, but with a new management structure in place, Rogan is optimistic about the challenges that lie ahead in 2012.
“If I’m honest, I couldn’t care less about who we are playing,” explained the Antrim native. “I always want my teams to play against themselves, to challenge themselves. This is a new year and a new Derry and I don’t think Wicklow will be particularly looking forward to playing against us.
“Training has been going very well with around 30 players out most nights and the new management structure is working well, it’s exciting to see. You are always going to get blips during a season, we know that, but it is about how you deal with those that defines the year.
“We have a couple of injuries though, Kevin (Hinphey), Paddy (Henry) and Cathal (McKeever) are only likely to miss this match but you have to get on with it anyway. People tend to concentrate too much on players missing. You’re always going to get injuries, that’s certain, you have to deal with it and get on with the game.”
Kevin Lynch’s and Banagher have a strong showing on the Oak Leaf panel and in the likes of Liam Hinphey, Paddy McCloskey, Oisin McCloskey and Ruairi Convery, the panel doesn’t lack inter-county experience and Rogan feels the squad has a nice balance to it.
“We are looking for a good start but we have a lot of young players in there. I think there are something like seven or eight Under-21 players likely to be included this weekend, but we have been delighted with the players in training and the attitude shown. Once they get in, it’s up to the players who start to keep the jersey.
“I think the average age of the squad is around 22, so it is a case of looking to the future in one sense. We have to make it as enjoyable as possible for the players so they will want to come back, but I think there is a real bond there now.
“We took the players away on a bonding weekend which has helped and I’m delighted as well to have the Ballinascreen lads back on board. Every one of them has been excellent. They are great fellas and they will strengthen us.”
Looking at his city quartet, the Derry manager was keen to stress that every player on his panel was there on merit with six clubs represented.
“We have the four Na Magha lads involved with the squad and four nicer lads you couldn’t hope to meet. They have been superb in training and are all anxious to play for Derry. Remember we don’t pick players just to give the smaller clubs a boost, these players are all there on merit. Who they play for doesn’t come into it when we are looking at a player. We watch them in games, have a look at them in training and decide if they are up to the grade and all the Na Magha are well capable of playing at this level.”
Despite last April’s 2-20 to 3-14 defeat still being fresh in the minds of many of this weekend’s players who were also involved last season, revenge is not something Rogan is worrying about.
“I have set targets but they are simply to see every player playing to his maximum as an individual and, collectively, to see us give everything we can as a team.
“We have a good mix of experienced and younger players and we will be hoping to do as well as we can, “ he added.