Croke Park Final is perfect Ulster Championship preparation says Derry boss Rory Gallagher

Derry manager Rory Gallagher believes Saturday’s Division Three final against Offaly in Croke Park will provide ideal preparation as he continues to plot an Ulster Championship path toward a meeting with Down or Donegal on July 11th.

Few had expected the game to take place with Offaly due to meet Louth in their Leinster Championship opener eight days later but Gallagher revealed he had a suspicion John Maughan’s men would look to play it if they overcame Fermanagh in their semi-final, a decision he is more than happy with.

“We had an idea that if Offaly won they would look to play the final and I can totally understand the reasoning,” explained the Oak Leaf boss, “Listen, we all say we want more games and less training so I can fully understand their thinking. They have eight days to get ready for their championship match against Louth and they obviously feel playing a competitive game in Croke Park is the best preparation available to them ahead of that and I can totally see that.

“They are playing a team that they will not be playing in their provincial championship as well so it all adds up for them. It was their decision and I can totally understand it.”

Derry manager Rory Gallagher feels Saturday's Division Three final will provide ideal preparation for the Ulster Championship. (Photo: Stefan Hoare)

While Gallagher admits winning the Division Three title was not high among his 2021 targets, he believes any competitive game in Croke Park is the ideal environment in which to improve.

“When you look at the start of this year, winning the title wasn’t necessarily high on our list but getting promoted obviously was,” he adds, “Look, this is just the next stage of it. We know, hand on heart, the only show in town is getting ready for the winners of Down and Donegal but we feel this is great preparation for it. It is another chance for us to improve.

“Coming off the back of a fairly intense run, you might be thinking you should take a break but, no, we have been long enough without games and on reflection, the more games our players play together the better we will be.

“We’ll just look forward to the game now and use it as massive preparation for our own championship which is ultimately where you are really going to be judged. Getting a game in Croke Park, we are taking the view that it will be good preparation for us.”

Derry have maintained a very settled starting team through the four league games but Gallagher is expected to rotate slightly this weekend with the likes of Niall Toner, Oisin McWilliams, Conor McCluskey, Karl McKaigue, Jack Doherty and Michael McEvoy all in contention to start.

“We will certainly not be risking anybody but thankfully Peter (Hughes) has been on top of the boys at training and they all seem to be fine. We will bring in a couple no matter what happens,” added Gallagher.

“There are a couple of fellas who were very, very close to being in the starting team the first day that we will give the opportunity to. There are a couple who haven’t really, even the games they have come on in, there hasn’t been crunch moments for them to show what they can do so we will bring in a couple but not too many.”

Gallagher said he was hoping for an improvement on the performance that saw Derry secure promotion against Limerick in Carrick-on-Shannon last week.

“To be honest, myself and the management team would have been fairly disappointed with how we played against Limerick so this a chance to up our levels and to get back to a better level which is definitely what I will be focusing on.

“I thought we left Limerick massively in the game in the first half last week, early on in particular. Even in the second half when we pushed five ahead, I was very disappointed we didn’t push seven, eight, nine or 10 points ahead but we didn’t make the most of our opportunities.

“We dominated our own kick-outs but were a bit sloppy in the way we went about finishing our moves in the first half. Those would be small elements I was disappointed with but, look, we don’t live in a world of perfect and the boys did an awful lot right but I would expect much more from them performance wise.

“I had watched Offaly’s game against Limerick in preparation for Limerick and I have watched their game against Fermanagh but, again, we will keep an eye on their key men and one thing or another but my focus is on getting an improved performance from us to try and iron out the lack of a clinical edge and then to be defensively better.”