Derry have no excuses this year ahead of Tyrone clash - Shane McGuigan

Ulster Senior Football Championship Preliminary Round

Shane McGuigan claims Derry can have no excuses this year of they fail to perform against Tyrone in Sunday’s Ulster Championship opener.

The Derry panel that line out in the Division Four final against Leitrim in Croke Park.

The Derry panel that line out in the Division Four final against Leitrim in Croke Park.

Slaughtneil's unprecedented club success of recent years have seen the Oak Leafers panel badly depleted, often until weeks before the provincial Championship which has severely limited preparation work. That hasn't been the case this season with Damian McErlain enjoying an almost full panel to work with since December and league performances, albeit in Division Four, have been encouraging.

However, despite promotion, few expecting anything other than a third straight-forward Tyrone victory in four years and while McGuigan admits they have ground to make up, he believes Derry must concentrate on setting their own standards in terms of performance.

“You can say that (about pressure) but on these championship days you are always under pressure,” explained McGuigan who also reached the Sigerson Cup final this season with St. Mary’s.

“Over the last couple of years Derry haven’t performed to the standard that we should be performing but we have some top quality footballers, make no doubt about that.

“It’s just about getting everyone working together. Damian McErlain has brought in Ciaran Meenagh which has been a huge help and you can feel that the team is really starting to gel. In recent years, the Slaughtneil men have come late into the fold so we know that there are no excuses to be made this year.

“We’ve had right from January to prepare. We knew ages ago who we would be playing and from that point the focus has been on Tyrone. We know the standards that Derry football should be setting themselves and we are trying to rectify that.”

The introduction of Tyrone native Meenagh has helped solidify an Oak Leaf defence that came in for plenty of criticism last season but McGuigan rejects the notion that Sunday will be just about restoring pride after two heavy Championship defeats to Mickey Harte’s team in three years.

“Derry football is known right throughout the country,” he adds, “For us, as a team, if you take a look there are leaders, right throughout the dressing room. You look at lads like, Chrissy McKaigue, Conor McAtamney and Ciaran McFaul, these lads are top quality players that any team in Ireland would have.

“Two 11-point defeats aren’t good enough and we know that. So, performance wise, we just want to perform and see how we can perform against a top division one team and we will try to build on that in the years to come.”

Sunday’s game has brought the inevitable references to Derry’s 2006 victory in Omagh, the Oak Leaf county’s last championship victory over Mickey Harte’s team and 22-years-old McGuigan has vague memories of a match he watched as a seven year old.

“Actually, I have just been finishing up Sean Cavanagh’s book and he mentioned it. He talks about their rivalry with Derry in it and I do have vague memories of the game.

“There was two or three Slaughtneil men in that team but those were the days of Derry football when they could go toe-to-toe with Tyrone and we, as a group of players, need to be striving to better ourselves.

“We know that from our previous experiences, the people of Derry don’t deserve to see the standard slipping. We have to improve and over the next two or three years start put the smiles back on the people of Derry’s faces.”