NIcky Rackard Cup Final 2017
Derry senior hurling manager Colm McGurk said it was 'Job Done' as Derry secured their return to the Christy Ring Cup with a comfortable 10-point victory over Armagh in the Nicky Rackard Cup final in Croke Park on Saturday.
Na Magha's Alan grant got the Oak Leafers off to the best possible start with an early goal and while the Orchard County managed to fight back to lead briefly, Derry had established a 1-09 to 0-06 lead by half-time.
Armagh were still in the game at that stage but that changed within three minutes of the restart as Gerald Bradley's blistering strike into the top corner capped a blast of 1-02 which effectively took the game away from Armagh as Derry managed the final stages with a minimum of fuss.
"You can only perform as well as you are let play and Armagh had a double sweeper system in front of our two full forwards in the first half and we went in 1-09 to 0-6 up but we knew if they were going to get anything out of the game, then they would have to come out at us and leave a bit of space in the second half," explained the Derry manager.
"We told the players to be patient. We pushed Gerald Bradley in on the edge of the square because Gerald has good awareness and the goal he took really was fantastic. It set us up and meant Armagh had no choice but to push out the field to try and get something from the game. The space started to open up inside after that.
"Our main aim at the start of the season was to win the Nicky Rackard and get back into the Ulster Championship which we have managed to do. It's managing to keep a big panel of players happy, that's the tricky bit, but 'it's Job Done'."
Two years after losing a Christy Ring final to Kerry in Croke Park, McGurk felt his side's greater experience had been a telling factor in the victory.
"We have a lot of players with Croke Park experience," he explained, "We have 14 fellas on the panel from Slaughtneil and they have been down here twice with their club in three years. We have two fellas from Cuala so that is 16 out of the panel that have played here recently. Others played in the Christy Ring final two years ago it wasn't a big issue for ourselves.
"I think that composure comes from a fair bit of experience within the squad. The fact that a lot of the Slaughtneil players have been to Croke Park, that the likes of the two Hinpheys, Ruairi Convery, Sean McCullagh, Darryl McDermott Alan Grant, those fellas all played in the Christy Ring team that was beaten by Kerry and, yes, they handled the occasion very well. "
McGurk said it was vital to win to get Derry back competing at Christy Ring level but acknowledged that much depends on player availability for next season including managing the workload for dual players like Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers.
"The big issue is the availability of the football players that are playing dual codes. We will hope to pick up a few Under 21s as well to deepen the panel and possibly Mark Craig, young Eamon McGill, Michael Warnock and players like that will come back into the squad. It is always out aim to get a bit more quality in.
"Christoper is a serious athlete and Brendan has a magnificent turn of pace. The two fellas have basically trained one night a week and have had maybe five session in total with us. I asked the players to buy into that and we worked with club sides; Slaughtneil footballer and hurlers, Cuala, University sides - we gave them all some breathing space at particular times so i didn't see why we wouldn't give the county footballers a bit of breathing space and just use them as leniently as possible during the run in to the final.
"The final was a different matter. We needed them on the pitch for the 70 minutes. We always knew facing Armagh in the final would be the most difficult task in the competition.