Derry boss Rory Gallagher not looking past league opener against Limerick
Rory Gallagher believes Derry's McKenna Cup success has given them the perfect grounding on which to build their Division Two league campaign.
Last season, a heavy defeat to Galway in the penultimate game - one of only two defeats Derry suffered in league and championship football in 2022 - curtailed their promotion bid following a controversial draw against Roscommon. With football's second tier expected to be even more competitive this season as Dublin and Kildare drop down from the top flight, the Derry boss is looking no further than Saturday's visit of newly promoted Limerick to Owenbeg and believes their success over Tyrone in the traditional season curtain raiser has left them well prepared to hit the ground running.
"I suppose it is glaringly obvious to everybody what we would want but I think when you start looking ahead is when you can fall asunder sometimes," explained the Derry manager.
"It is up to ourselves to stay grounded, stay in the moment and try to produce good performances week on week, making sure we improve. That's the way we come at it, not just the league or Saturday's game but the whole season.
"The McKenna Cup has been very good for us this year. I suppose having two battles with Tyrone is a big start in the sense that we all know how good a side Tyrone are. We'd be pleased with our approach to and our attitude in the four McKenna Cup games.
"We started very tamely and very slowly against Fermanagh which in a lot of ways was very natural as we had no real pitch training up to then, well certainly no games. Look, we built nicely through the competition. I felt while we probably used the same number of players as other groups and we got out of it what we wanted in terms of a number players got plenty of minutes and others got their first start so it was good.
"It puts us into a good position going into the league but it is now up to us to kick on again."
Matthew Downey was a notable absentee throughout pre-season while Niall Loughlin and Shea Downey also missed games but Gallagher is expecting to have Matthew back by the time his side face Louth in their second game with Niall and Shea expected to be available this weekend.
"We are looking at Matthew tonight (Wednesday) and we will see how he is," added the Oak boss, "We did a recovery session on Sunday and Matthew did a bit of running separate to that with the boys who didn't play a full part in the game on Saturday night.
"Look, he's moving along well now and if it is not this week then it should be the following week but I would expect Niall Loughlin and Shea Downey back available again. We'd be quite hopeful Shea and Niall will be available for Limerick but, again, we will monitor them in training. They were moving well but we didn't want to risk them in the McKenna Cup final though I'd be hopeful on both."
Derry have met Limerick twice over recent seasons as they climbed their way back through the divisions, Damien McErlain's Oak Leaf side triumphing 0-13 to 1-05 during in a Division Four meeting in 2019, a game which was a first meeting of the two counties since 1992. The last meeting of the sides saw Gallagher's team secure promotion to Division Two by defeating the Munster men 0-17 to 0-13 in the Division Three semi-final in Carrick-on-Shannon in 2021.
With hurling the prominent game in the Treaty County, they have won four of the last five All Ireland titles but there is a push to raise the profile of their footballers. After the departure of former manager Billy Lee they brought in the high profile Mayo man, Ray Dempsey, who had steered his club, Knockmore, to the Mayo 2020 and 2021 county titles. Dempsey himself played in the 1989 and 1996 finals for his native county and has managed their U21 and minor teams in the past. He made 84 appearances for Mayo seniors and was tipped for the Mayo post which surprisingly went to RTE pundit, Kevin McStay.
Amazingly for a relatively small county, Limerick has 101 clubs, the fourth highest in the GAA. Their county senior champions, Newcastle West, reached the Munster club final by beating Clonmel Commercials who in turn had shocked the provincial favourites, Nemo Rangers of Cork. In the final they were edged out by 2-6 to 1-8 against the Kerry champions Kerins O’Rahilly’s.
It all means the reigning Ulster champions will be expected to start with a win against Dempsey's team who lost out 0-19 to 2-07 to Cork in the final of the McGrath Cup having earlier defeated Waterford and lost to Tipperary. With a trip to Louth to follow Saturday's opener, Gallagher is anxious to see his see go into the third week break on the back of two victories.
"I can totally understand that we will be favourites," explained Gallagher, "I suppose being Ulster champions and the way we performed last year means we are, but that is a good thing. It is up to us embrace that and to roll on the positive way we have been. We have to continue to be hungry and continue to improve.
"The week break allows sides to take stock but it is up to us to make sure we are in a good position after those first two games," he added, "The main reason for the break is obviously in case there are games called off but it does give you an opportunity to reflect about where you are at.
"Look, we just want to be in a position where after one game we've one win and after two games we have two wins, it's as simple as that."