'Underdogs? Maybe, but sometimes the underdogs wins!' - Derry manager McKinley all set to face favourites Offaly in Christy Ring Final
Christy Ring Cup Final: Derry v Offaly (Sunday, Croke Park, 1pm)
If Dominic McKinley Cormac Donnelly or any of their Derry players paid attention to match previews, they probably wouldn’t bother turning up at Croke Park on Sunday (1pm) for the Christy Ring Cup final.
McKinley has no problem with the underdog tag, he’s lived most of his sporting life with it, but foregone conclusion? There’s no such thing according to the Loughgiel Shamrocks club man. And besides, sometimes the underdog wins.
“I’m wise enough and long enough about to know that maybe seven out of 10 days you go and Offaly beats you out the gate but there are three other days and Sunday could be one of those three,” smiles the joint Derry manager.
“You can always cause upsets providing everybody - the players, management and backroom team - are tuned in and you perform to the best you can and maybe they have an off day or are a bit complacent. In sport, there are no definite conclusions until the game is over.”
That’s the theory though it won’t hold much water outside the Oak Leaf county with most pundits predicting a comfortable Offaly win at headquarters, a fact backed up by the Faithful County’s headline grabbing 6-30 to 0-11 semi-final victory over Wicklow. Derry’s cause won’t be helped by the loss of Conor McAllister to a knee injury picked up in last week’s victory over Sligo at Owenbeg, with McKinley hoping the Slaughtneil defender’s absence doesn’t turn out to be prolonged.
“Conor McAllister is a massive loss for us. He is out of contention for the final but we are hoping and praying it isn’t a ligament, first and foremost for Conor, that’s the last thing he needs,” he explained.
“We lost young Darragh Cartin at the start of the year with his knee so we are hoping there is no serious damage done to the inside but that will not be known until later in the week.
“You feel for a young lad like that. He’s got to Croke Park and it doesn’t matter what age you are, Croke Park is your national stadium and you grow up wanting to play on it and now they have an opportunity and it has been taken away from them.”
Derry were back at training on Tuesday after Saturday’s workmanlike 0-28 to 2-17 victory over Sligo and McKinley is under no illusions that a similar level of performance won’t be good enough against Offaly this weekend in a game that will be the curtain-raiser to the Leinster Football final between Dublin and Kildare.
“We played in spells against Sligo,” admits McKinley, “The first quarter was very good and probably the game should have been over. We shot 12 wides during that period but the only thing about the wides was we took out shots from the right places and that’s something we have been working very hard on. We were maybe a bit nervous at times and pulling it.
“We were in control right up until half-time and at the start of the second half we went eight or nine up but then we lost our shape and let them back into it. It could have been worrying.
They created chances, scored a couple of goals, and maybe could have scored another one. There was just that bit of us losing our shape or our focus, thinking we were over the line before we were, but we regrouped and got it sorted.
“It is something we need to improve on and we know this weekend, unless we play the full 70, 75 minutes or whatever times it lasts, we need to be at it constantly because it is a massive task. Michael Fennelly has come in this last two or three years at Offaly and they have a plan in place to get up the ladder but we all do. We all want to get up into a higher grade to get better.
"We know the task ahead of us and we will prepare as best we can. We will look at them and focus on areas that we feel we can get to them a bit. Hopefully then we can win enough possession to create those positions.”
Sunday’s final will be the second time in two years the Oak Leafers Christy Ring Cup fate rests on a game against Offaly. Last year John McEvoy saw his side knocked out by an Eoghan Cahill inspired Offaly with most expecting Fenelly’s team to go on and win the competition before Down shocked them in the semi-finals to ensure another year at Christy Ring level for the 1998 All Ireland winners. Indeed, Offaly may well have challenged very strongly for the Joe McDonagh Cup only for that Down defeat such has been their outstanding form in the league, mainly against opposition of that level.
It all highlights the scale of the task facing Derry but McKinley says Derry won’t be overawed and wants his players to enjoy every minute of the All Ireland final experience.
“We just have to play the game we see, watch how it develops and cope with it as best we can. We will try to look for breaks and use every margin we can gain. We will take every 16 or 17 minutes at a time and forget about the rest of the game. Once we come in at the water break we’ll look at the next period again, that’s how we’ll go. It will all be measured out and we will try to stay in it.
“The longer we stay in the game, the more doubts that will create for Offaly because at the end of the day there is massive pressure on them to deliver, to get up. Everybody seems to be spending more time talking about Offaly getting back up a level but you cannot forget all the other teams trying to get up a level as well.
“You have to embrace days like this and whatever happens, happens. You have to enjoy your day from the minute you get on the bus, it’s important to enjoy every minute because there are plenty of sad things going on around us. Yes, hurling is the be all and end all for an hour or so on Sunday but life’s important and getting days like this when you play sport help you along.
“What a massive occasion it is for these players playing in front of the Leinster final, quite a big crowd coming in near the end and hopefully we are in a situation where that crowd can get behind the underdogs as well.
“We have a lot of good players and we think the structures are right now so hopefully we can push on. I know there is serious pride in these players as well. As individuals they have played at a very top level at club level. They have dealt with big occasions so you hope that is going to help them.
“The biggest thing of all is to have no fear of Offaly. If you go out and read into things that are going on around the final from media and stuff, that would have you worried but every game is on its own merits. Remember, I played most of my career as an underdog and sometimes the underdog wins.”