Allianz National League Division Three
Padraig Cassidy, Benny Heron and Shea Downey are all expected to return for Derry this weekend as the Oak Leafers’ Division Three campaign takes them to a Pairc Esler meeting with Down.
The trio missed last week’s disappointing open day draw with Leitrim in Celtic Park but return alongside the fit again Shane McGuigan and Niall Keenan to boost Rory Gallagher’s options ahead of what could prove a pivotal fixture for both counties’ promotion hopes.
Paddy Tally’s team were held by 14-man Tipperary in Clonmel last Sunday, lessening the blow of Derry’s draw 24 hours previously, and Gallagher has challenged his players to be more ruthless this weekend as they seek a first victory.
“What any other team does, we can’t control but last week we had the chances to put up a much bigger score than 2-11,” explained the Derry manager.
“As well as the amount of ball we gave away, the number of shots that we dropped short, we had a couple of goal chances or situations from which I think we should have created goal chances and didn’t make the most of them.
“We weren’t ruthless at all, with or without the ball, and if you want to be a top team you have to be clinical.
“We are hoping Paudie (Cassidy) will be back in the squad. Shea (Downey) should be back and Benny Heron will be back in the squad, those three for definite will be back and give us a few more options.
“It’s good to have them back in because they are all top quality players and Shea, in particular, had been going very well earlier in the year. The three of them will definitely increase our options for the match day squad.
“Paudie is a very strong runner and, naturally, he is in great shape. He had been training very well and then there was a bit of a setback but all being well and we are just having a get together tonight (Thursday), but all being well he should be good to go.”
The Derry manager admitted he was frustrated by last week’s display but is hopeful some of the mistakes were due to opening night nerves.
"We recovered well from being 1-03 to 0-01 down and we played well for the 15 or 16 minutes coming up to half-time,” he explained, “It’s a shame we didn’t stretch out the lead once we had got the goal but we looked nervous.
“We looked ragged and while you would be pleased with the attitude that all the lads showed, we were very disappointed with the amount of ball we gave away. We’re disappointed with the way we defended for an awful lot of the game. When you give the ball away in the manner we did, you are chasing shadows and we never really got to grips with the way Leitrim were counter-attacking us. We were very disappointed from that point of view.
”Hopefully we can maybe put some of it down to it being our first big day out and maybe there was a bit of nervousness in terms of expectations. Giving the early goal away didn’t help either.
“I’ve been very pleased with the lads. Their attitude has been good but we still need to improve massively. We need to play the game a lot smarter and with a much greater understanding of how we play as a team, both with and without the ball.”
While Down will be hoping to have at least some of their Kilcoo contingent available again, Gallagher insists Derry cannot be concerned at what the opposition will do at a stage in the Oak Leafers’ development when they need to be concentrating on themselves.
“Last week’s results show how tight the division is and you saw Cork also taking until quite late on to push away from Offaly,” adds Gallagher, “The reality is all the teams in Division Three, none of them are happy to be there. That brings added pressure. Everyone aspires to improve and it ensures it will be very competitive.
”We went down and took a look at the Down/Tipperary match in person. I suppose that’s the bit you enjoy doing. With Leitrim, it was a bit of the unknown in that we didn’t get a true reflection of them, only what we had from last year but, no, we went down and watched the game.
“It’s good to be able to watch your opposition live. It’s one thing on a video but when you get to see them in front of you, you get a feel for them and what their strengths are and what their potential weaknesses are.
“I knew it would be a dogged affair down there. I didn’t know which way it would go to be brutally honest. In the greater scheme of things, when you only get a point yourselves, it’s never a bad thing to see other teams only get one as well but at the same time, it’s irrelevant.
“We can’t afford to be thinking about other teams. We just need to make sure, we come ready for the battle and play with the spirit we are looking to play with, to play with that togetherness and hunger that we need to show.”
While acknowledging Newry is never an easy place to play, especially when you are trying to find your feet as a squad, Gallagher wants to see his players embrace the battle.
“I’ve been to Newry a few times in my career and since I have been involved in coaching and that. It’s always a tough place to go but that’s the challenge. We want to meet those challenges.
“We fell short of the level we wanted to get to against Leitrim and there are simple things that happen when you do that, your pride gets wounded when you don’t play as well as you want to.
“The challenge now is to go and deliver for the county.
“Down will have their motivations as well but we just need to make sure own motivations are right and we go about the game in the right, cohesive manner with and without the ball. We need to play with the fight and spirit that Derry teams want to play with and Derry supporters want to see.”