BENNY Heron starts in a three-man Derry full forward line as Brian McIver’s men look to build on their impressive over Laois when they travel to undefeated Wexford on Sunday. (Throw-in: 2.00 p.m.)
Michael Wilson reports
The Ballinascreen man replaces Collie Devlin and is one of two changes from the 15 that started in Celtic Park three weeks ago with Gerard O’Kane fit to return at the expense of the injured Ryan Ferris. That 1-17 to 2-11 win over Justin McNulty’s promotion chasing Laois - and the manner in which it was achieved - has renewed optimism among the Oak Leaf support but McIver knows his team will get nothing easy in Wexford Park this weekend.
“We’re going to Wexford knowing full well that not too many teams get a result there,” admitted the Derry boss.
“We’ll have to be prepared. Wexford have been consistently strong for around four or five years now and we’ll be in for a battle. They went to the Athletic Grounds in Armagh last week and produced a first half display which marked them out as a very dangerous opponent. They were very unlucky not to win that game which would have been a great result for them.”
Indeed, had Aidan O’Brien’s men managed to hold on to an exhilarating first half display against the Orchard County they would be sitting top of Division alongside Westmeath on four points after an opening day 2-08 to 1-10 victory over Longford. That they don’t have four points offers both an encouraging and cautionary tale to McIver and his players, depending on which half of last week’s game they Derry management team study.
Wexford hit three goals inside the opening 22 minutes and looked to have the game won by half-time but the Armagh fought back bravely after the break with the help of a Gavin McParland hat-trick of goals before Stefan Campbell grabbed the equalising point three minutes into injury time.
Paddy Byrne scored the Model County’s opening goal after six minutes before Redmond Barry added a second from the penalty spot. Their main free-taker, Ben Brosnan, then created a goal for team-mate Shane Roche to finish. Stefan Forker had kicked Armagh’s only point until substitute McParland unleashed a blistering to the back of the Wexford net one minute before the break so the 3-1 to 1-1 interval lead could have been even more emphatic.
However, Wexford struggled to replicate that sort of intensity in the second half as Armagh finished the stronger and Derry will be anxious to prove the resolve they showed against Laois was not a one-off.
McIver is likely to continue with the three-pronged attacked which worked well in Celtic Park while PJ McCloskey and Patsy Bradley will be charged with providing the same platform they did in a very impressive midfield display against Laois.
“Benny Heron comes into the starting line up for us on Sunday for the first time but following an impressive season with St Mary’s, Benny has been going well in training and deserves his place,” explained McIver, “We will pick players on form and on performance in training.
“Ryan Ferris, unfortunately, picked up a knock towards the end of the Laois game and it rules him out for Wexford. He’ll be replaced by Gerard (O’Kane) who obviously brings that bit of experience to the defence. Gerard had suffered an injury during the Galway game but has recovered sufficiently to be included for Sunday.”
That experience the Glenullin man adds will be vital in a back line that largely performed well against Laois although McIver will be keen to see no repeat of the goals that were gifted to McNulty’s team.
In what appears a very open division, the Derry manager will also be aware that any team that manages to string together three or four victories will put itself in a very strong position, with leaders Westmeath this weekend facing a tough test in Galway.