Allianz National League Division Two: Derry v Kildare (Sunday, Celtic Park, 2pm)
Derry selector Hugh McGrath believes Sunday’s crucial Division Two clash with Kildare in Celtic Park provides the perfect opportunity for the Oak Leafers to show lessons have been learned from the 15-point mauling against Meath two weeks ago.
The result leaves Derry on one point from their opening two games and in need of a win against the team that tops the table with four points from impressive victories over Meath and Cork.
Damin Barton has made two changes from the team that started in Navan, bring in Magherafelt keeper Conor McLarnon for his National League debut and with Niall back in the full back line in place of Ronan Murphy. Mark Lynch remains three to four weeks away from returning to action but Forglen’s Oisin Duffy is closing on a return, as is Coleraine’s Ciaran Mullan and McGrath says the entire squad has responded positively to rectify the disappointment of that Meath result.
“The reaction has been very good. On the Tuesday night after the Meath game the guys were very honest about the fact that they didn’t follow the game-plan when we came under pressure and it unravelled,” explained McGrath.
“Once we went behind, after the goal, we lost our way. We weren’t under that much pressure and there was still 20 minutes left so had we held firm in our shape and what we were doing, we could have came out the other side and still been in the game.
“There was a bit of panic on the field which is going to happen at times with the inexperience we have and we chased a game we didn’t have to. We got exposed defensively.”
And despite their lowly position in the table, McGrath says no-one is about to push any panic button yet.
Is it ‘must win’
“We are not bottom, sometimes people forget that, and while it is a cliche, you have to take each game as it comes, play it on its own merits.
“The game this week is big one but Down the following week could arguably be bigger but only if we get a performance and a result this week so we can look no further than Kildare,
“As regards ‘must win’, I don’t think we are into that type of territory yet and it is up to us to make sure it doesn’t come to that.
“In many way, it is the opposite of last year when we had two wins before the break and then the wheels came off a bit afterwards. This year the break has given us a chance to refocus and regroup.
“We had a good, hard look at that performance and there has been a lot of work done since Meath which hopefully come Sunday will pay dividends.
“When we talk of inexperience within the panel, it is not inexperience in football terms, it is inexperience in dealing with the environment that the young players are now in.
“It is very different being the ‘big fish’, so to speak, at minor or Under 21 level or with your club, to then coming into a National League game.
“The pace and power of the game is much stronger. Periods of that Meath game were a chastening experience for the guys but they have taken it on the chin. They have learned lessons from it and moved forward so they will bring those lessons into Sunday’s game. That’s the hope.”
The Lilywhites are the highest scorers in the Division after two games with a tally that more than doubles Derry’s. Forward Niall Kelly has been one of the main men responsible for that as two goals on their opening day victory over Meath highlighted. Derry will have their hands full with Kelly and Ben McCormack who chose the victory over Cork to showed what a danger he can be.
“I have seen quite a lot of Kildare and, from a forward perspective, they are quite explosive,” adds McGrath.
“They are entertaining to watch. They are not into short kick-outs or closing the game down into narrow spaces and denying space. They are quite open, quite fluid in how they move and you can see how well drilled they are.
“It will be a tough test. They have some very good players and are playing very well going forward. It is good to see because I remember some great Kildare teams over the years but hopefully we can halt their charge at the weekend.
McGrath admitted the Meath result had been hugely frustrating but said e is hoping the players can use the experience as motivation this weekend.
“We were going rightly into the second half and we had an opportunity to put three points between ourselves and them. We had the chance and we went for goal, missed, and then our inexperience was exposed as Meath went for the jugular.
“It is now about how we respond against a Kildare outfit that has been superb in the league. The statistics show their forward line is the most potent in the division so it’s up to us bring them to Celtic Park and give them a tough time.
“We cannot afford to give Kildare anything easy. If Kildare are going to get scores we have to make sure they have to work as hard as possible. That will be our aim defensively.
“I think we have enough going forward, if we get decent possession, to get the scores to win but it will be about how tight we are at the back.”
the Derry team to play Kildare on Sunday is;
1. Conor McLarnon
2. Niall Keenan
3. Conor Nevin
4. Peter Hagan
5. Neil Forester
6. Oisin Duffin
7. Michael McEvoy
8. James Kielt
9. Conor McAtamney
10. Enda Lynn (C)
11. Emmett McGuckin
12. Carlus McWilliams
13. Danny Tallon
14. Niall Loughlin
15. Benny Heron
16. Thomas Mallon; 17. Oisin Hegarty; 18. Conor McGrogan; 19. Gavin O’Neill; 20. Ciaran Mullan; 21. Mark Craig; 22. Ryan Bell; 23. Michael Warnock; 24. Niall Toner; 25. Barry Grant