Rory Gallagher seeking Derry's clinical edge as Fermanagh visit Owenbeg

Allianz Leagues, Division Three North

By Michael Wilson
Friday, 21st May 2021, 8:00 am

Derry manager Rory Gallagher is hoping his fast improving side can add a more clinical edge to their game when they host Fermanagh at Owenbeg on Saturday (Throw-in 5pm).

The Oak Leafers were impressive opening day winners in Pearse Park, Longford last week, securing a richly deserved 16-point victory that Gallagher hopes is the first step toward a semi-final promotion play-off. To get there though, Derry must successfully navigate successive Ulster derbies against the Erne County and Cavan and Gallagher knows victory this weekend would represent a major obstacle cleared.

“There is no time to breath in this league but the players and ourselves as a management team will certainly be keeping our feet on the ground,” explained the Derry manager, “We are very clear in our objectives, we want to qualify for the semi-finals. We’d like to do that as quickly as possible and a victory on Saturday night would give us a great opportunity at that.

Shane McGuigan is likely to be the focal point of the Derry attack against Fermanagh on Saturday. (Photo: Syl Healy)

“A place in the semi-final would leave us one step away from getting promotion and that’s the way we are looking at it. We are trying to get a victory this weekend and please God that will take us into a semi-final play-off.

Derry reported a clean bill of health following the Longford fixture while Karl McKaigue’s appearance for Slaughtneil last week is another important milestone toward his return to county action.

Of course Derry weren’t the only Division Three North winners last week as Fermanagh upset Ulster Champions, Cavan, a result that didn’t surprise Gallagher.

“Obviously I have a fair bit of history with Fermanagh and would know plenty about Fermanagh/Cavan. It’s a local derby and there is a fair rivalry but Fermanagh would always see themselves as having a great opportunity,” he added.

“I remember in last year’s league game, only for the concession of two bad goals, Fermanagh had a great chancing of winning the game. Certainly last week’s result wasn’t a shock to me. Last year’s Ulster Championship was a strange Ulster Championship and I suspect even this year there will be some strange results, especially with no crowds in. From watching the game, Fermanagh were well worth their victory last week.”

That 0-15 to 0-14 was due in part to Sean Quigley’s personal haul of 0-9 (6f)and the big Erne forward is a player Derry will need no introduction with Gallagher stressing his focus will be on his own team rather than an opposition he knows very well.

“That can be an advantage but the opposition is going to change from week to week for us so 95% of our focus for this and every game is about ourselves.

“I clearly know Fermanagh quite well from recent history but there’s still a huge turnover of players and I think Ricey (Ryan McMenamin) and his management team are building a new team. There is that Hogan Cup winning team from St Michael’s, Enniskillen and they have had relatively decent underage teams, teams who have enjoyed success over the past couple of years. There is definitely new blood alongside some of the older hands as well.

“It is a massive match but the nature of this league is that no matter if either team won, lost or drew last week, the second game was always going to be huge because the rewards are big for the winning team this week. It is another Ulster derby and will be a good test for us.

“Naturally you are happy with last week but in reality you haven’t much time to be happy the way this league is and, definitely, being more clinical is something we’d like. To be so dominant in the game against Longford, for the majority of the match we missed a number of easy chances and you saw with the top teams the country the massive difference - the Kerry, Dublin, Donegal and Tyrones - they were far more clinical in their games than we would have been in ours.

“That was a bit disappointing but from the point of view of endeavour, winning ball, defending well and creating chances, there was an awful lot of good things in the game for us. Against Fermanagh we will look for a similar level of performance in many aspects but try to improve in our finishing.”

The challenge now for Derry is to prove last week’s level of performance is the new normal as players begin to see the benefits of the hard, individual work they put in during the lockdown.

“We are not even thinking about championship and that tell you how big the league is for us,” added the Derry manager, “That is a challenge we have been laying down to our players.

“This is the time to be fit and ready, we don’t have time for players to be injured at this moment in time. Niggling knocks and one thing or another which, in another year, you might have rested during the league, we’ll not be doing that. Everybody has to present themselves fit and ready to play because this is a key period in these players’ careers as well as our own.

“We feel, even going back to the return from Covid last season, when we had a very short run in with our full group of players because our county final was much later than others, we felt that there was good signs of progress.

“We played well against Longford last season when we came back, our first half against Offaly was very good. Times against Armagh in the second half was good but, no, there is no doubt we felt that was a good step forward the last day. It’s about building that and getting a really consistent level now that the players can see that progress is being made.

“Look, we keep saying it but it bears repeating, we are trying to have consistent selection and a consistent standard of how we play. Consistent performances with the quality of players we have should bring good results.”