“This is the stage of the year where you want to be tested,” said Derry star, Chrissy McKaigue.
Derry will be appearing in their 12th National Football League Final since their historic first title in 1947 against Clare and they will be seeking to win their 7th title when they face reigning champions Dublin in Croke Park on Sunday afternoon (Throw-in 4pm).
Back in 2008 Derry - who won the Divison Two title against Westmeath last year - won their last Division One title when they beat odds-on favourites Kerry in the decider and they will be striving hard to repeat that effort against reigning All-Ireland and National League champions, Dublin.
This will be only the second time that they have met Dublin in the final and it’s almost 40 years since they played in one of the best league deciders ever played.
Ironically there is a strong connection between the teams that played in that final and the teams that will play on Sunday!
Dublin stars Bernard and Alan Brogan will play some or all of Sunday’s decider, Alan having started against Cork in the semi-final and Bernard coming off the bench to telling effect. Back in 1976 their father Bernard also came off the bench!
In that game Mickey Lynch was one of the Derry stars - he scored 0-06 from play - and on Sunday Derry fans will be fervently hoping that his son Mark will be accepting the Irish National Insurance Cup, first presented to Kerry in 1929.
The legendary Michael O’Hehir signed off his radio broadcast that afternoon with the words “Thank you Dublin, thank you Derry. It was a pleasure to see a game like this. The record book will show that Dublin won the match but the record books should have a little thing in brackets after it - Derry played a blinder.”
Dublin have appeared in 22 finals and have won 10, coming with a sensational second half scoring surge to beat Cork in the semi-final.
Derry have appeared in 11 finals and have won 6, their last in 2008 when they beat Kerry 2-13 to 2-09.
Sean Leo McGoldrick, one of the star defenders in the entire league campaign, will not recover sufficiently from injury to take his place in the side that lines out in Croke Park.
In a recent league game against Ballinderry he injured a knee and, although initial fears of a season threatening cruciate ligament injury, the worst fears were allayed when scans showed ligament bruising.
While the league final is very important, the game against Donegal in the Ulster Senior Football championship in Celtic Park is the only game that now counts in the grand scheme of things. It is likely that that game will be the Coleraine player’s target.
Derry star Chrissy McKaigue, (pictured left with Derry manager, Brian McIver) who won the Player of the Match accolade with a masterly defensive display at full back in the NFL semi-final win over Mayo, insists it’s a major boost to the squad to be returning to Croke Park in a NFL decider for the second year in a row.
“That’s one of the main things that Brian (Derry manager Brian McIver) talks about,” said McKaigue. “He always talks about playing in Croke Park and he’s right as that’s where you always want to aspire to play.
“That’s where the main business is conducted. Obviously the National League is not as important as the championship but to play in a NFL final is very important as a National medal would mean a lot to all the players. I was beaten in the 2009 final and that still hurts yet, so we’ll be trying to get one up on Dublin this weekend.”
Getting to the league final shows that Derry’s form is good as they look forward to the crunch championship game with Donegal and McKaigue believes playing in the top tier will give them an advantage this year.
“We talked about last year when Down had a bit of advantage playing in Division One. It was not that big a factor but it was a bit of a factor. Definitely our games this year have been higher tempo and so far the preparation has been good for the Donegal game. But Donegal are going to be some test for us.”
Dublin the Benchmark
Dublin’s performance against Cork in turning a 10 point deficit into a seven point victory was a phenomenal turnaround and, on the evidence of their second half power show, they will surely prove very hard to beat.
However, the former Australian Rules player remained upbeat about Derry’s chances and about playing the reigning 2013 NFL and All Ireland champions.
“They are the benchmark for everybody else to try and get to. They have the population, they have the resources, they have all the big players at the moment. It’s going to be some test but if you had of asked me who I’d wanted before the second semi-final I would have said Dublin in Croke Park because of the atmosphere there and Dublin are the best team in the country. We will not fear them but we will respect them for all they have achieved. But I would very much expect us to put up a very good performance. I think if we can produce again the performance we put in against Mayo with 14 players, we could very easily win the game.
“They have so many quality players in the team and coming off the bench. They have no shortage of quality.
“But our defence has been going relatively well. I’m looking forward to the test. This is the stage of the year where you want to be tested. “Donegal have Murphy, McFadden and McBrearty. It doesn’t get any easier, does it?”
However Derry showed against Mayo that they have the character, unity of purpose, determination, panel of players and the quality of players to take on, compete with and beat Dublin on Sunday in Croke Park.