Derry want to start beating 'big' teams claims Rory Gallagher ahead of Cork clash

Derry manager Rory GallagherDerry manager Rory Gallagher
Derry manager Rory Gallagher | other
Allianz Football League, Division Three

Derry manager Rory Gallagher believes Sunday’s clash against Cork is an opportunity for his evolving Derry squad to prove they can compete with the game’s elite counties.

The Rebels have a perfect Division Three record after four wins from four games and are favourites to cement a spot in next summer’s tier one championship with promotion to Division Two. Following on from a 2019 that saw Cork competing in the Super 8s and both the minor and Under 20 Rebel sides pick up All Ireland titles, the Munster men seem well on the way to restoring the county’s fortunes.

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Derry, by contrast, started slower, a home draw with Leitrim being followed by a narrow defeat against Down in Newry, a result that left the Oak Leafers with no margin for error. Ironically, that display in defeat against Down has been Derry’s best of the season and they have built steadily, if unsympathetically, since. Victories over Tipperary and Louth saw some encouraging signs and left Gallagher’s men among a group of four counties three points behind Cork, rendering Sunday’s trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh a chance for Derry to show they deserve a spot at football’s top table.

“We have a very ambitious group and we’re not happy with where we are,” explained the Derry manager, “The players aren’t happy with their current standing throughout the country. They want to play at a higher standard but to do that you have to be able to play the Corks and beat the Corks and that’s where we find ourselves now.

“It’s very appetising. As a player you train hard to play in big games and must win games. There is no fun in playing games that don’t have any meaning or any edge to them. This is an exciting time if you have aspirations of being a top team and a top class inter-county footballer.”

And, as the Derry boss admitted, only a victory will do if Derry are to keep alive hopes of a top two finish.

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“If we are to put ourselves really in the mix for promotion, then we absolutely have to win this one,” adds Gallagher.

“After coming out of Newry, a lot of the games were effectively ‘must win’ but we are really looking forward to the challenge. Cork are seen as the number one team in the group. They had a strong Super 8s last season but we feel, without being at our sparkling best, we have showed in small patches throughout the past three games that we can play a lot of good football.

“It is about trying to get that consistency of performance. If we can do that over a sustained period of time then we are more than capable of beating Cork.”

Both Ben McCarron and Alex Doherty return to the squad for the trip south although a throat infection may curtail the latter’s involvement against a Cork team who didn’t have things all their own way in the Munster derby against Tipperary last week before eventually holding on to claim a 3-13 to 0-21 victory.

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“Tipperary will probably feel they did enough to win the game,” added Gallagher, “Cork had a number of goal chances and buried them but we know that about them. If you give away goal chances they will take them. If you give them opportunities and space, and don’t bring the right intensity without the ball, then Cork have the ability to punish teams. At times they opened up Dublin and Tyrone last year in the Super 8s so we are well aware of the threat.

“We closed down Tipperary very well the week before and that’s what we have to marry, our ability to close Cork down and at the same time impose ourselves on the game with the ball. That’s a challenge and a lot of it comes down to possession from kick-outs and things.

“We have been very successful on that front over the last few games so we have to continue that. If you have the ball, you can attack plenty and that makes it harder for Cork to get at you.”

Niall Loughlin’s goalscoring return from the bench against Louth should be enough to get him a start this week and while happy with some aspects of Derry’s progress, Gallagher says they have to be more consistent in games.

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“We have shown in that last two games glimpses but nowhere near the amount of quality we should be showing on a consistent basis but that’s the challenge for us.

“The need is greatest at the weekend given the stakes and given the opponent but we have to make sure we produce more consistent highly quality football over a longer period. If we do that, then we are capable of beating the Corks of this world.

“This group of players want to start beating big teams. They haven’t done that over the last number of years but that’s the challenge at the weekend. It was great to beat Tipperary and then Louth, but Derry probably expect to beat Louth.

“We have to go now and start winning games against the head and put ourselves in a position we will be more content with because at the minute we are not content with where we are at. We want to get to a better level.”