GERARD O’Kane and Benny Heron have been restored to Brian McIver’s starting XV for Sunday’s National League Division One visit of All-Ireland champions, Dublin, to Celtic Park. (2.00 pm).
The duo will replace Aidan McAlynn and James Kielt who both drop to the bench but McIver is unlikely to tinker too much with the shape of the team for a match Derry fans will have earmarked from the moment the league fixtures were released last January.
Heron replaced Kielt after 42 minutes of last weekend’s defeat in Cork and did enough to retain his position as the Oak Leafers came to within a point of a draw after a sluggish start. O’Kane will be making his third start in Division One this season after missing the Westmeath and Cork games through injury.
Dublin currently sit second in Division One, one point above third placed Derry with both sides having suffered defeat to Cork in their opening four games. Victory on Sunday would be a major step for either side towards the semi-finals but the Derry manager knows his team cannot afford to start as they did in Cork last weekend.
“Dublin still have a number of their starting XV from last year who are making their way back,” said McIver. “But they won last year playing really good flowing football and have started this season doing the same. We know ourselves, you have Cork one Sunday and Dublin the next Sunday; that’s two massive games in the space of a week but it’s a great level of football to be playing at.
“In the second half against Cork last week, we played some really good stuff and were probably unlucky not to come away with something in the end.
“I thought we had a very good penalty claim. We had a good goal disallowed and I thought Cork got a very soft free for the last Colm O’Neill point but, whenever you fall about 11 points behind, there’s no point in looking at referees. You have to look at your own performance.”
McIver admitted his team’s start cost them the points in Páirc Uí Rinn but the Oak Leafers managed to continue the high scoring exploits, hitting 3-14, which means only Mayo have scored more in the Division than Derry.
The Derry boss welcomed the attacking approach of teams but was slightly sceptical on whether it would continue into the Championship.
“We have been playing good football. Everybody will look at the influence of the black card and say that it has created more open football. Now, whether that continues as the year progresses, it’s hard to say but a lot of sides have been scoring very freely and maybe it is to do with the fact that no player wants to be taken out of the game. So psychologically, maybe there is a bit of influence.
“It’s one of those situations where there may be more than one explanation for it. I have no doubt that Dublin’s open, attacking style of play last year, a good percentage of the country would have looked at it and admired the way that they played.
“The introduction of the black card has, maybe, played on players’ minds that this is the way to go. The football has become more of a shoot-out but it’s very competitive in Division One. The standard of football is absolutely top class this year,” he concluded.