Rory Gallagher happy with Derry's 'favourites' tag ahead of Limerick semi-final
Rory Gallagher is happy for his Derry side to be labelled ‘favourites’ ahead of Saturday’s crucial Division Three promotion semi-final against Limerick.
The Oak Leafers have been in fine form, recording impressive victories of Longford, Fermanagh and Ulster champions, Cavan, to top Division Three north and set up the winner-take-all tie in Páirc Seán Mac Diarmada in Carrick-on-Shannon (throw-in 4pm).
Those results, coupled with performances that yielded 6-50, have made pundits sit up and take notice once again and Gallagher is more than happy with the attention.
“I like to be described as favourites and I’ve said that to the players. I don’t want us to go in under the radar or maybe depending on luck. If you are going in to a game as favourites it means you are doing things right consistently, you are winning games and producing good performances,” explained Gallagher.
“The boys have coped well with the tag but they now have to cope another day to get the reward for what they have put in because if they don’t cope well with the favourites’ tag this weekend, a lot of the good work will be, to a degree, undone but that’s not something we are focusing on.”
The format of the truncated county season this year means the Limerick tie is an early start to the championship season in all but name with promotion and relegation play-offs now determining league fates in every division. If there was little room for error before, there is none now but that’s a challenge Gallagher is embracing
“In a normal season, having won your three games you would be in a great position and could probably afford a slip but that’s not the case this year,” he agreed, “It’s a big game but we knew all year that getting to the semi-final was going to produce a big game. If we can produce the right performance and win it, that will set us up for the championship and for the future for the boys to be playing at a higher level.
“It was a fairly dramatic fall from being in a National League final in 2014. To go to the level that unfortunately some of the boys did was disappointing for them on a personal level and as a collective. They are aspiring to be the best they can be and perhaps feel they should be playing at a higher level but you have to prove that. We have to produce the performance on Saturday to guarantee that.
“Early on, when myself and the management team got together, we could see a lot of the reasons why it plummeted to the level it did. Bit by bit we have tried to work at that and bring a level of organisation and a level of enjoyment to it that would give us an opportunity to play at a higher level.
“I think we have built on that but we are still far from the finished article. However, since we came back after Covid in September last year, I thought we hit the ground running. Unfortunately we were probably just out of the promotion race the way it fell that time but we have been improving bit by bit since then.
“For us this season has been like a championship run form day one. There has been such little room for error but now, there is absolutely none. If we can win this game it will be like a championship win but that’s the same for Limerick.”
Gallagher will be without Brendan Rogers who injured his hamstring in the victory over Cavan though the Slaughtneil man should be fit for the Ulster Championship.
“Brendan is very unlikely to play and we are not going to force it. It is one of those things, it’s going to take an extra week or 10 days more than we have available but we got our heads around that early on.
“Thankfully it’s not an overly serious injury. That is always the first fear, that it could put his season in jeopardy but it’s definitely not that. It is a run of the mill hamstring but unfortunately it will take two or three weeks to recover from.
“Provided we get through training this week, had you said to me at the start of the year that we would only lose one player over the course of these three games, I’d have taken that, as much as I would like to have Brendan there for Saturday. It is what it is, we deal with it and move on.”
The Derry manager also revealed he has been running his eye over Saturday’s opposition and said he’s expecting a tough encounter but stressed the focus remains, as it has done all season, on their own performance.
“With the GAAGO facility every game is there and we have taken a look. They have unearthed a number of new forwards over the past couple of years since Derry played them in 2018. They are very big and powerful around the middle of the field but while we will look out for their danger men and how they set up, most of what we do this week is about ourselves.
“We had a big performance the first day, another one the second day and then to back it up and even come back from a couple of setbacks in Cavan was very good. I’m sure Limerick are very ambitions as well. Having just come up from Division Four they have done extremely well to not only guarantee their status in the division but also to give themselves a knock-out game to go up.
“We have to make sure our focus is only on producing a performance. I’m confident if we do that then we have the players to win the game.