'Derry not the finished article yet' warns Rory Gallagher despite free scoring league start
Derry manager Rory Gallagher has urged caution despite a free scoring start to the season which has seen the Oak Leafers hit 5-34 in two Division Three games.
Victories over and Fermanagh see Derry sitting top of the northern section and all but guaranteed a place in the semi-final promotion play-off thanks to a very healthy scoring difference, boosted further by the concession of only 0-14 in more than 140 minutes of football. Derry complete their section with a tough trip to to Ulster champions, Cavan, next weekend and while Oak Leaf fans can rightly get excited about the current form of the team, Gallagher is not about to be distracted from the bigger picture.
"I have a good idea where we are at," explained the Derry boss, "We all know we are not the finished article. We have players working really hard, Derry people know the talent but now they are committing to each other and they are playing for each other. Cavan is going to be a really good test but the opposition is going to change every week and we have to focus on one week at a time. Ultimately, we want to win that semi-final if we are in it.
"I want us to perform, I want us to win games, I don't want us to go in under the radar. I want to go into the Cavan game with an expectancy of what the players expect of themselves. They want to stick their chests out and they want to play against the best teams. "
There has been a notable change in mentality during Derry's opening two games as the Oak Leafers relentlessly chased qualification at the earliest possible opportunity.
"Why should there be a let up?" asked Gallagher when quizzed on his side's second half intensity against Fermanagh, "We are starved of playing football. This team needs to play a load of games together., "Derry people know Derry football better than me but we now have the best players in Derry available and with a really good attitude and all committing to each other.
"I felt we turned a corner last year during Covid last year, albeit with a disappointment in the championship, but we have very good footballers and just need to push on now. If we are in the play-off we have to try and win that to get up."
The Covid enforced break has proved something of a blessing in disguise for Gallagher who used the lack of fixtures to fine hone his panel, revamp his backroom team and improve the players' strength and conditioning work.
"It is a long time since March 2020. We set about changing a lot because I thought we were very dysfunctional for the first period that I was involved," added, "There was a lot of ironing out to be done. I don't think lads realised what it takes. It is not as if they weren't putting in the time but let's put it in smarter with more togetherness and I think you are starting to see early signs of that.
"Some of the personnel that maybe didn't match the level of athleticism aren't here anymore. We have worked on the players that are here. It comes from consistent application and doing the right things. Peter (Hughes) and Anne Marie (Mulholland) have been phenomenal, with the way the season has been.
"A lot of it is down to trusting the players. They saw the benefits of it over last year during the first lockdown and certainly committed to it. They raised the standards for themselves. Anybody can be an athlete you have to put in the time to be a team.
"We are closer but we're still a long way away from where we want to be. We're definitely closer but it is a long way to go. With respect to every single opponent, we have to prepare for Cavan and try to give a really good performance.
"I would expect we are in a semi-final with our score difference from the two results but we need to make sure of it and next week is another challenge. We want to play the Ulster champions and they will probably have learned a few lessons from last week.
"Overall, we would be pleased with the effort (against Fermanagh). It should give us a really good chance of being in the semi-finals and that was our aim at the start of the league, to try and get a couple of wins and be in the semi-finals as early as possible. "