GER ROGAN believes an Ulster Senior Hurling Final appearance would be a richly deserved bonus for his Derry squad if they can defeat Down in Casement Park this Sunday (3.30pm) to set up an showdown against his native Antrim.
Michael Wilson reports
Rogan is in the second year of a ‘Derry project’ that has already overseen a remarkable transformation in the fortunes of Oak Leaf hurling, to the extent that Derry is viewed by many as favourites against the Mourne men this weekend.
However, it has not been all plain sailing for Rogan’s improving panel this season after they lost out to London in the Christy Ring Cup following a poor first half display. Even there though, a fantastic second half recovery almost brought them victory and following a better than expected league campaign and increased numbers at training, things are certainly much rosier in the ‘garden’.
As for the favourites tag, it is not something which Rogan put too much emphasis on despite Derry having already defeated Down in Division 2A this season.
“It is immaterial whether we are favourites or underdogs,” explained Rogan, “It is only an opinion and whatever you are, you have to carry that in with you and deal with it. If some pundits are saying we are favourites that is because in their eyes we have earned that status, because the players have put themselves in that position through good performances so it’s a good thing but it won’t count once the whistle goes.
“The last games between the sides count for nothing. Last year we defeated them in the Christy Ring Cup but they hammered us in the league so past games count for nothing on these occasions. We expect Sunday to be nothing more than a real Championship battle.
“Some people are talking us up as perhaps being the second team in Ulster but Down have a point to prove after being relegated though you can read too much into these things, it is all about the 70 minutes.”
Such has been the renaissance within the small ball game in the county that Rogan, who only last year was struggling to get a team out on the pitch, is now receiving calls from players seeking to join the panel. That, claims the Derry manager, is down to the players already there!
“We have virtually a full squad to choose from this weekend which would probably for the first time this season. We have around 31 players and those numbers generate themselves because the lads are enjoying coming to training. They go away and talk to other lads and it goes from there. We are now in a position where I am taking calls from players who are looking to return to the squad.
“If players are not putting it in training then they are let go but we are very happy with how things are going and have every faith in the players we have. After the defeat to London we offered the lads a night off training yet 29 of them turned up, that shows the attitude present in the squad.”
After a routine victory over Armagh in the quarter-final, Sunday will be a step-up for Derry and Rogan does not want his players looking any further than the semi-final.
“Down went through a tough time earlier in the season, they lost a lot of quality players but Down are always Down. The only thing that’s not in doubt is they won’t be lying down to anyone and we are in for a very difficult game.
“Everyone has opinions about the team but the important thing is the attitude of the panel and that has always been first class. Preparations have been going well but it is all about what happens when the players hit that white line and we are just hoping the attitude that the players have shown in training is brought onto the pitch this weekend. The thing is we have played well in patches during games and when we manage to put it together we have looked good but we haven’t managed to put it together for a full 70 minutes yet.
“The Armagh game helped us get the London defeat out of our heads but to be honest an Ulster final at this stage would probably be a bonus for us. We are developing well but it would be great to get there and give the county a boost,” he added.