Rory Gallagher is backing the influx of Slaughtneil and Coleraine players to provide his Derry panel with a major boost ahead of their National League campaign but warned there are no quick fixes in county football.
The Oak Leafers start their Division Three fixture list with a home game against Leitrim on January 25th in Celtic Park when Gallagher’s line-up is likely to look significantly different from the teams that lost to Monaghan and Donegal in the McKenna Cup. Those defeats, despite a number of positives from the Mongahan game, were a stark reminder to the new Derry boss of the considerable gap his team must bridge to be competitive against the top sides once more but Gallagher is up for the challenge.
With the full squad at his disposal since both the Emmet’s and Eoghan Rua exited the All Ireland Hurling Club Championship, the Derry manager was looking forward to working with them collectively on the training pitch for the first time.
“It isn’t going to happen overnight, you have to work hard,” explained Gallagher, “We want a quick fix, absolutely. Obviously the quality of players we have coming in will lift us massively.
“I would say the boys have done an awful lot of good things (in the McKenna Cup) and the boys have all worked really, really hard but it is on game days and against quality teams, we just have to have a better culture, better standards day after day.
“I’m not overly concerned with challenge games at this point,” he added, “Having the boys together on the training pitch, we are really looking forward to this week because we will have everyone back on the pitch.
“We have a couple of injuries but we should have eight or nine players that weren’t playing against Donegal back. Niall Keenan is due back, the Slaughtneil boys, the Coleraine boys, Jack and Alex Doherty, Niall Loughlin is not far away and all those players will be a big lift to us.
“We knew from day one that Slaughtneil against Ballyhale and Coleraine playing Conahy, they were going to be big days for us. We are glad to have the boys back and to have these two weeks because it could have been worse, you could have had only one week (to prepare for the league).”
Top of Gallagher’s ‘to do’ list will be organising a Derry defensive unit that has come in for plenty of criticism over recent seasons but the former Donegal and Fermanagh boss believes he has plenty of talent to work with in the Oak Leaf back line.
“Defensively, Derry have struggled a lot but at the same time you are bringing Niall Keenan, Karl and Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers - players like that and they will make a huge difference. We were missing Shea Downey against Donegal as well, it was just too tight for him, but the one thing I would say is Conor McCluskey, Paudie McGrogan, Shea Donwey on top of those defenders from last year and a bit of structure and tactical discipline, I’d say our defence will be okay.”
The Derry boss admitted his squad have still work to on the physical side of their game but said it wasn’t a priority at this moment in time.
“You can make excuses with the physical side of things. If I had a choice of physically getting there or getting there skills wise, decision wise and tactically, they would all come ahead of physically.
“We seen with Donegal, an awful lot of their players - Brendan McCole, Paul Brennan, Michael Langan, Daire O Baoill, they are physically in really good nick but that doesn’t happen overnight either.
“In the McKenna Cup, I think we got our eyes opened. You could have played games where it might have papered over the cracks but the one thing you have to be is honest with yourself. You have to know where you are at. We know there is a long way to go and we felt the Leitrim game was going to a big game for us at the start of the year and that is our focus.”