Rory Gallagher praises Slaughtneil and Glen players as Derry prepare for Division Two opener against Down

Allianz League Division Two: Derry v Down (Sat, Owenbeg, 6pm)

Rory Gallagher has paid tribute to the Slaughtneil and Glen players who are aiming to bounce back from club disappointment with Derry when the Oak Leafers start their Division Two campaign at home to Down in Owenbeg on Saturday (6pm).

Gallagher confirmed his five Slaughtneil hurlers whom he described as “unique individuals” would be available despite this week’s clash arriving less than a week after the Emmet’s suffered a heartbreaking All Ireland semi-final defeat to Ballygunner.

“We had the five Slaughtneil hurlers there last night (Tuesday) and every one of them training,” explained Gallagher, “Despite the huge disappointment they suffered, they were a breath of fresh air with their quality and their leadership. They are all available.

Derry manager Rory Gallagher.

“It is an unfortunate thing and please God this is the last season players are put in that position. Part of you wants them available, of course. You want to see them winning All Ireland medals but of course you’re selfish and a part of you wants them available for all your games too. Hopefully if Covid is put behind us, this will be the last year that it happens because these players deserve the opportunity to have success with both club and county.

“They are great leaders. Christopher (McKaigue), Brendan (Rogers), Shane (McGuigan) and Karl (McKaigue) and Paul (McNeill). Even if they were in the hurling final, it was never really agreed, but knowing the boys they would probably have wanted to play anyway. They love playing for Derry footballers as well, they are just unique individuals.”

Gallagher, who knows the pain of provincial and All Ireland club disappointment with St. Galls, welcome an entire full back line and said the desire of the players to return was a credit.

“In Paul, Karl, Brendan and Christopher you have four people competing for your full back line and you’re more than happy to play the four of them and obviously then you have Shane at the other end,” he explained

“As well, you have to mention the Glen players. They’ve come in and been a breath of fresh air as well. Some of them took a bit longer with injuries but I’m delighted to have a fully fit Conor (Glass), a fully fit Ciaran (McFaul), Ethan, Jack and Conlann as well. It’s brilliant.

“You have to remember it is a huge disappointment for boys when they lose games of that magnitude. I’ve been there myself, it’s a wild disappointment and I can only imagine how they felt. But they’ve parked it and moved on very quickly because they know Derry needs them which says so much about them.”

Derry will face a Down side minus their Kilcoo contingent but Gallagher says his primary focus is not on the opposition, but rather seeing his side fulfil their potential.

“In a mini way it is about the first two games but in reality the focus is Down. We don’t really set targets. The big thing for us is to fulfil our potential and to do that we need to improve massively. If we do that I believe results will be very favourable for us.

“It’s Down at the moment but when I say, it’s Down, it’s really about us, just Derry. We’ve got to get our performance levels, individually and collectively, right; playing for each other and playing for the team, putting the team first at a ferocious level of hunger and intensity.

“If we do that - the opposition is going to change seven teams over nine weeks - but if we do that I’m confident we can get the results. It starts with Down and I believe if we bring that then we are good enough to beat Down but that is up to us to do it.”

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