Derry target McKenna Cup semi-final as Oak Leafers travel to Fermanagh

2022 Dr. McKenna Cup, Section C: Fermanagh v Derry (Shamrock Park, Saturday, 1.30pm)

Rory Gallagher believes a McKenna Cup semi-final spot could aid Derry league preparations as the Oak Leafers seek to secure a last four berth with victory against Fermanagh in Shamrock Park, Roslea on Saturday (1.30pm).

The Derry boss is expected to welcome back a number of players including Gareth McKinless, Ciaran McFaul, Conor Glass and Padraig Cassidy for a game from which victory should ensure progress after the Erne county were beaten 0-16 to 0-11 by Monaghan last Sunday.

That result means Derry need to win by more than five points to top Section C, though given the standings in other sections, any type of victory is likely to be enough to take them through, not that Gallagher is expecting anything easy against his native county.

Monaghan’s at Darragh McElearney chases Conor McCluskey as the Derry player breaks forward during the draw at Owenbeg on Friday evening last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2201GS – 011

“We should have a few of the boys back and in contention this weekend,” explained the Oak Leaf boss, “Gareth (McKinless) and Ciaran (McFaul) should be back; Paudie Cassidy maybe not as likely as the other boys but won’t be far away, nor will Conor Glass.

“Shane Heavron is back and good to go and Enda Downey is as well so, yeah, there are a few more boys ready for this weekend. They won’t all play full games but most of those fellas did the training on Sunday and we’ll see how they go tonight (Wednesday) at training.

“It will be good to have them. At a push the majority of those boys would have been back last week but it’s still early in the year so we are just making sure everyone is okay.

“Listen, there will be nothing easy. Fermanagh had a number of new players against Monaghan and they looked young and hungry so they’ll be looking to put their best foot forward to establish themselves in the team but we’ll not study the opposition any more than we did Monaghan at this stage of the season.

Greenlough’s Niall Loughlan scored four points for Derry against Monaghan at Owenbeg on Friday evening last. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2201GS – 009

“We’d be more focus on ourselves and confident if we bring the right kind of mentality that we have been bringing over a sustained period of time and play with the right intensity, spirit and attitude, then I think we should be good enough to win.”

Still without his Slaughtneil players and with players returning at different times after Ulster Club Championship involvement, Gallagher admitted the early stages of a modern pre-season can be a tricky juggling act but paid tribute to the work of coach Peter Hughes and the dedication of his playing panel.

“You probably don’t train at the level you were three weeks ago but to be fair to the lads, from the time their clubs finished and they got in touch with Peter, they’ve done a lot of work themselves.

“Since we got back then in December they’ve worked hard. It’s not the longest of pre-seasons but, at the same time, we all wanted the McKenna Cup games to get concrete and competitive practise and I still think it is a good thing.

“Look, it is different with guys coming back at different stages and you saw Tyrone just back off a plane and into a match. I know Monaghan had the majority of their players out of Ulster club at a relatively early stage so they had a good run at it but it’s not easy before Christmas for anyone.

“Obviously you have Covid in there to complicate things further and it’s a time when boys have a bit of downtime as well. There’s weekends away and weddings and one thing or another.

“Every county juggles that but ultimately everyone is working towards the start of the league and if we are lucky enough to get a victory at the weekend we can be guaranteed another game the following week which will help.

“We have to beat Fermanagh because the bottom line is if we do beat Fermanagh, my understanding is that ourselves and Monaghan would both go through. I don’t think there is any situations in the other sections where teams could finish on three points.

“Obviously if we beat Fermanagh by more than Monaghan did then we go through as Section winners but we’re just trying to hone in on getting a really good performance and doing ourselves justice.”

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