Rory Gallagher wants massive improvement from Derry ahead of Monaghan McKenna Cup opener

2022 Dr. McKenna Cup: Derry v Monaghan (Friday, Owenbeg, 7.45pm)
Derry manager Rory Gallagher wants to see "massive improvement" from hsi Oak Leaf side in 2022.Derry manager Rory Gallagher wants to see "massive improvement" from hsi Oak Leaf side in 2022.
Derry manager Rory Gallagher wants to see "massive improvement" from hsi Oak Leaf side in 2022.

Rory Gallagher says he wants to see “massive improvement” as Derry prepare to start their 2022 season with a McKenna Cup opener against Monaghan at Owenbeg on Friday night (throw-in 7.45pm).

A perfect promotion record secured Derry’s place in Divsion Two but the Oak Leafers exited the Ulster Championship at the first hurdle for the second successive season despite an impressive display against Donegal in Ballybofey. It’s a result that still rankles the Derry manager who believes competing in the higher division will help Derry bridge the gap to the country’s top sides.

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“The target is to improve massively on last year,” stated Gallagher, “I feel that, while we were obviously successful in the league last year, that should have been the case given the quality of players we have. I believe we need to start, we’ve lost to Armagh and Donegal in the last two championships, we have to start beating teams of that level and by playing in a really competitive Division Two against better quality opposition, it will give us a better chance of improving and a more accurate barometer.

“That’s the challenge, to improve massively and by doing that I’m quite confident we will win a lot of games if that is the case.”

Gallagher will be without his Slaughtneil contingent and both Ben McCarron and Donnacha Gilmore from Steelstown as they begin a season in which the full benefits of the split season are yet to be felt. The Glen contingent are back following their own Ulster exertions and while frustrated, Gallagher says the split season will eventually prove a major success.

“It is a start however it is disappointing,” explained Gallagher, who has brought a number of Derry’s All Ireland winning minor squad into the senior set-up.

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“I felt they were happy to put county teams out week on week all year; there were Derry club teams out week on week in the championship but then this crazy gap between all provincial games was strange.

“Personally, I don’t think there was any reason the All Ireland Club football and hurling championships couldn’t have been wrapped up by mid-January at the latest.

“Some counties will be a bit behind but to be fair, one of the reasons given by Croke Park is Covid. In future there will be a very clearly defined split season when no matter if a Slaugtneil, a Glen or a Steelstown goes all the way to an All Ireland final, which we would hope they will, then it will still be over in time for the National League which is something everyone wants.

“Players want to play games, both for club and county, so if they can find a way to accommodate that and this is the last year then we’ll suck it up and there is an upside with the lads enjoying the success they are with their clubs.”

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Covid dictated a one year sabbatical for the McKenna Cup last season but Gallagher for one is delighted to see the return of the traditional season curtain raiser.

“It’s nothing that defines your season, far from it, however if you look at Ulster, Tyrone have owned it for a number of years which shows the more competitive games, the more opportunities.

“It’s a starting point for so many players in their career but it is also an opportunity, this year more than ever, to play more competitive games which we have been starved of over the last two seasons.

“Everything for us is geared towards being at a really high level for the first two league games before we take a break. By producing quality performances regardless of what teams are out, I think that will only enhance our chances.

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“We can only take Monaghan first and foremost but if we came out of the group and had a semi-final to look forward to I’d be over the moon. Just with players coming back from rehab, if you did have that game, you’d have more of your experienced players back but, look, we’ll just try to get a really good performance against Monaghan to get a starting point.”

“It starts in the league, (we have) to try to perform at a really high level in Division Two and see where that can take us. If you do that it could take you to a really exciting place and a good level. That’s up to us to show the improvements but we have no doubt we have an awful lot of quality players.

“There is no doubt our squad is getting a bit stronger. It probably wasn’t as strong last year as you would have liked but the influx of these younger players and maybe a few tweaks, other players getting more experienced, we’ll have a strong first 18 or 20 and I’d be excited about that.”