NA MAGHA’S Alan Grant returns to the Derry senior hurling team as they begin their Allianz National League Division 2A campaign with the visit of old foes Wicklow to Celtic Park on Sunday (throw-in 2.00pm).
Michael Wilson reports
Grant missed the Oak Leafers recent Kehoe Cup campaign as he was playing for Queen’s University in the Fitzgibbon Cup but the return of last year’s Christy Ring All Star is a timely boost for Ger Rogan whose panel is missing 13 players from last season’s ulster final defeat against Antrim.
Grant is named in a strong looking half-forward line which includes Ruairi Convery and Brendan Rodgers although it is likely the big Swatragh man may be pressed into full forward.
It was about this time last season when critics were lining up to dismiss Rogan’s men as Division 2A ‘cannon fodder’, a label Derry made of mockery of with impressive victories over Kerry and Down en route to securing safety with a degree of comfort.
Sunday represents a chance for revenge for Derry after last season’s disappointing Christy Ring defeat to the Garden County but the Derry manager was keen to focus on his side’s strengths rather than worrying about the opposition.
“It would be nice to kick-off with a win as it is going to be a tough campaign,” explained Rogan, “When you consider we have lost something like 13 players from the Ulster Final panel of last year, it shows the extent to which we have had to rebuild the panel but the young lads who have come in have been excellent. They have bought into what we are trying to do and their potential is huge.
“We have tried to stress the importance of playing for 70 minutes this season as 10 minutes of madness in a couple of games cost us dearly in a couple of games last year. The talent is definitely there in Derry but sadly I don’t think enough people in Derry believe it. “We have given the lads as professional an approach as we can and they have bought into things like diets and lifestyle and seen the benefits.”
This season saw a break with tradition as Derry took part in the Leinster’s Kehoe Cup competition, a decision that brought victories over Trinity College and GMIT before defeat to Kildare in the semi-final. Despite that reversal though Rogan was reasonably pleased with pre-season preparations.
“Competitive games are much more valuable than any challenge game can be. The word challenge gets into players’ heads and it is difficult to recreate the intensity of league or championship but we have been trying to tell the players to use the challenge games as well. “We were trying to get it into their heads that the benefit of the challenge games is that you are playing against yourself, the result is not all important but how you perform is.
“At this level of competition, the games are not televised so you are going into games knowing relatively little about the opposition, you have to concentrate on your own game and your own strengths.”
Rogan has lost the services of Leigh Hawkins, Paddy McCloskey, Charles Gilmore, Sean McGuigan and Oisin Doherty among others since last year and will be without Michael Warnock on Sunday but he has little doubt the players in the current squad have more than enough ability to perform at this level.
“People often talk about targets and whether you should put pressure on the players but these are inter-county players, they are better than the normal club hurler, that’s why they are representing their county. They should be able to handle the pressure that comes with pulling on the county jersey.
“We didn’t really turn up against Kildare in the Kehoe Cup in our last game but it was still a good exercise for the younger players to see the level they are expected to reach. In fairness the players have been flying in training and we are looking forward to Sunday.”
Derry (v Wicklow): Darrel McDermott (Banagher); Conor McSorley (Ballinscreen), Conor Quinn (Swatragh), John McCloskey (Ballinascreen); Ruairi McCloskey (Banagher), Liam Og Hinphey (Kevin Lynch’s), Paddy Kelly (Kevin Lynch’s); Chrissy Convery (Swatragh), Kevin Hinphey (Kevin Lynch’s); Brendan Rodgers (Slaughtneil), Ruairi Convery (Swatragh), Alan Grant (Na Magha); Paul Cleary (Ballinascreen), Oisin McCloskey (Banagher), Niall Ferris (Kevin Lynch’s). Substitutes: Conor O’Kane (Swatragh), Dara McCloskey (Banagher), Brendan Quigley (Na Magha), Paddy Henry (Lavey), Tiarnan McCloskey (Banagher), Liam Murphy (Lavey), Diarmuid Shields (Na Magha), Patrick Rodgers (Slaughtneil), Caolan McGurk (Lavey), Michael Kirkpatrick (Swatragh)