Tom McLean has made two changes to his starting 15 as Derry hurlers travel to Cusack Park, Mullingar in search of their first points of the league season.
Slaughtneil’s Meehaul McGrath comes into the half-back line in place of Lavey’s Dermot O’Neil after impressing off the bench in last week’s opening day defeat to Antrim in Celtic Park.
McGrath was a second half substitute for the injured Conor McSorley against the Saffrons but McSorley has been passed fit to fill the full-back role against Westmeath who got their campaign off and running with a 2-16 to 0-13 victory over London in Ruislip.
The only other change is an enforced one for McLean as Na Magha’s Breandan Quigley, who injured his back last week, is forced to miss out with Kevin Lynch’s Paddy Kelly coming in to replace him.
“Westmeath are always difficult opposition, particularly in Mullingar, so we know Sunday will be a big test for us but this is the opposition you want to play against,” explained the Derry manager.
“Personnel wise they seem to be along similar lines to last season but I haven’t seen much of them though you know it is never an easy game. They will have been happy to come back from London with an eight point win last week, that’s a decent result, but we have to concentrate on our own game.
“We have quite a few young players who are playing in this league for the first time. We have lost some experience but with that youth, sometimes the younger players play with freedom and just go out and hurl their natural game. That’s what we are asking of them.”
Last week’s 2-12 to 1-21 defeat against Antrim had a number of positives for McLean who is hoping his team can reproduce the level of performance they displayed in the opening half against the Saffrons.
“We have analysed the video this week and when you look back at the game there was little or nothing between the teams,” adds McLean, “Antrim did probably make better use of their period of possession in the second half but there was not a lot wrong from a Derry point of view and we can work on those little things.
“I couldn’t help but be pleased with the first half display against Antrim. The players did very well and while the second half was ultimately disappointing, we have a platform to work from. The young players, some of whom were making their league debuts in the second half all acquitted themselves well.
“We had a full turn out at training on Tuesday again and will sit down and talk through the areas we need to improve on and try to make sure we are ready for the trip to Westmeath.”
The nature of the National League in both codes is such that successive defeats at any stage of the competition can define your season at either end of the table and Derry have been handed possibly the toughest start of any county in the division with Carlow to follow in the third match on March 6th.
“I have said before we are looking at the league game by game, just as we have in past seasons. It can be detrimental to set targets because any sort of setback means you think the target is further away and the pressure increases. We are concentrating on Westmeath only,” explained McLean.
One major positive to emerge from last week’s reversal against Antrim was the return to form of talisman Ruairi Convery who helped himself to 1-08 including one huge first half free of almost 100 yards. The Swatragh stalwart has been hampered by injury over recent seasons but McLean believes last week proves there is plenty of hurling left in Convery yet.
“It is crucial for the younger players to have a player like Ruairi to look to in games. Even in the changing room Ruairi is a great example. Some of these younger players grew up watching him hurl and he is still an example to them.
“He never misses training and is in the best condition he has been for three or four years. Some of his free taking last week was exceptional and there’s plenty of hurling left in Ruairi yet.”
The Derry hurling team to play Westmeath on Sunday at Cusack Park (2pm) is as follows:
1. Darrell Mc Dermott (Banagher)
2. Eugene McGuckin (Swatragh)
3. Conor McSorley (Ballinascreen)
4. Sean McCullagh (Banagher) (Capt)
5. Darragh McCloskey (Banagher)
6. Paddy Kelly (Kevin Lynchs)
7. Meehaul McGrath (Slaughtneil)
8. Oisin McCloskey (Banagher)
9. Tiarnan McCloskey (Banagher)
10. Jonathan O’Dwyer (Banagher)
11. Mark McGuigan (Slaughtneil)
12. Gareth O’Kane (Slaughtneil)
13. Shane Farren (Banagher)
14. Ruairi Convery (Swatragh)
15. Alan Grant (Na Magha)
16. Ciaran Gaile (Eoghan Rua)
17. Gabriel Farren (Banagher)
18. Paul Cleary (Ballinascreen)
19. Brendan Douban (Na Magha)
20. Deaglan Foley (Na Magha)
21. Brendan Laverty (Lavey)
22. Johnny McCullagh (Ballinascreen)
23. Mickey Conway (Swatragh)
24. Niall Farren (Banagher)
25. Ruaidhai Leonard (Eoghan Rua)
26. Thomas Magee (Eoghan Rua)