Rory Gallagher admits Sunday’s clash with Tyrone will be his biggest game yet with Derry but stressed that for old rivalries to be truly reborn the Oak Leafers must prove they belong alongside the Red Hands at the game’s top table.
Derry go into the Ulster Championship quarter-final as underdogs in most people’s eyes and while Gallagher won’t be reading too much into any pundit’s prediction, he says his emerging Oak Leaf squad still have to prove themselves with a big championship scalp.
“Yes, I probably would say this is my biggest game as Derry manager,” explained Gallagher ahead of Sunday’s Healy Park meeting with the Red Hands, “There’s no doubt there has traditionally been a huge rivalry but there’s also no doubt there has been no rivalry worth talking about for the last seven or eight years. For two teams to be serious rivals they have to be able to go at each other hammer and tongs and that’s the challenge for ourselves going into this game.
“Tyrone are All Ireland champions but no matter what, playing Tyrone in Healy Park has been a daunting experience for everyone in Ulster over the past 25 years but that’s also something to be really enjoyed and a challenge to relish.
“From the minute the draw came out, yes the National League is hugely important and we wanted to do well in it - we could have done better - but all the time it has always been with a view to being totally prepared for the championship.”
The Derry manager revealed he was fully expecting Conor McKenna’s midweek reprieve after the red card he picked up in the All Ireland champions’ routine preliminary round victory over Fermanagh, adding Derry’s focus remains on their own preparations.
“I don’t even look at the underdog thing,” he explained, “I would like to be favourites going into every game because that means you are winning all the time but that’s not possible. We have to earn that right but the other thing from our perspective is we have closed the gap. We are not as big underdogs as we would have been a year or 18 months ago.
“Now it’s time for us to try and close that gap even more.”