Derry boss Rory Gallagher expecting toughest test of season against Clare in Ennis

Allianz Leagues, Division Two: Clare v Derry (Sunday, Ennis, 1pm)

Rory Gallagher is expecting to have a clearer view of the progress his rejuvenated Derry squad has made this season by Sunday evening.

By that stage the Derry team bus will be winding its way back up the N17 after what Gallagher believes will be the toughest test of his side’s promotion credentials to date against Clare in Cusack Park, Ennis (1pm).

A perfect start to life in Division Two has brought six points from games against Down, Offaly and Cork as well as renewed optimism that the Oak Leafers are now well equipped to return to the top flight for the first time since 2015. For Gallagher though, it’s not about potential, rather than promotion and the Oak Leaf boss believes Sunday’s trip to one of the country’s most consistent counties, a county who has spent the past seven seasons playing second tier, represents another important milestone for his squad to test themselves against.

Derry senior football manager, Rory Gallagher. (Photo: George Sweeney)

“I am reasonably satisfied,” explained Gallagher of his side’s progress to date, “The way the management team and the players see it, it’s about fulfilling potential and they are coming close to fulfilling potential on a consistent basis but that’s our job as coaches and managers, to try and get that.

“Am I satisfied that we are fulfilling our potential? Absolutely not, but am I satisfied with our attitude and our application in trying to get there? I am, yes.

“I do believe this weekend will be a much superior test for us. I’m not playing anyone down but Offaly were only promoted with ourselves, Down had a late management change before the season and Cork are in a rebuilding process but we will know a good bit more about ourselves come Sunday evening.”

Gallagher will be coming up against the longest serving county football manager in Ireland in the form of his Clare counterpart, Colm Collins, a man who has established the Banner County among the top sides in the country, even if they don’t always get the credit their consistency has merited.

“It is going to be far from easy,” added Gallagher, “Clare have a very settled group and a well established manager in Colm Collins. Probably up here we get a small bit arrogant because we don’t see them play as often as we maybe see Kerry play or the other Ulster sides play, given the level of interest in Ulster teams but, no, we would pride ourselves as being people with a keen interest in football and we would have a good idea on Clare and what they are doing.

“They are a very good side. They are unfortunate that they are in a province where Kerry have been ultra strong for years but they have been very competitive in Division Two and have been up near the top of it for the last number of years.”

Gallagher is expected to have Gareth McKinless, Ciaran McFaul and Padraig Cassidy all back and available for selection but he has been delighted to see the likes of Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan and Oisin McWilliams take advantage of the opportunity offered over recent weeks.

“Without Paudie, Ciaran and Gareth, three seriously top performers and experienced lads, the upside for the other lads was it gave them an opportunity and the likes of Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan and Oisin - we are delighted to get Oisin back, he was unlucky to pick up a couple of niggles after a good McKenna Cup. (We’re) Delighted to have him back because we believe he is a serious, quality operator.

“The likes of Oisin, ‘Clucky’ (McCluskey) and Shea Downey, it mightn’t have been going their way 12-18 months ago but they’ve kept at it and they have really progressed now so from that point of view we are very, very pleased. The more people with that kind of attitude and mindset the stronger we are going to be.

“The boys are getting the reward for how they train. We judge their levels of training. Training is very, very important to us. The quality and attitude at training has been excellent. Look, we need more than that of course but that’s the start.

“Obviously the addition of Matthew (Downey) and Lachlan (Murray) on top of that; Ben McCarron is back in and Niall Toner is another player so we do feel there are more and more players pushing and we want them all to keep pushing each other.”

Derry will go into the match as favourites given their start but Gallagher know his side’s promotion hopes are going to be defined on the road with a trip to Roscommon to follow this weekend’s clash and he says his players must be ready to fight for every point.

“Clare and Roscommon will be very tough but the way we are looking at it is, if we are victorious against Clare then there could be an awful lot at stake in Roscommon but we can only deal with that after this week. We are just unbelievably excited. We loved playing last week, we loved recovering training this week, getting ready for Clare and getting ready to go into battle.

“That’s the one thing I will be demanding, that out attitude is ready to battle and ready for a serious level of commitment. Once we produce that I don’t doubt we have the tactical ability and the skill set to do it but we need to roll our sleeves up and get ready to be in a ferocious battle to get two points against Clare.”

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