The Derry to Dublin road has been a source of frustration for years.
Traffic congestion and hold-ups, the shortcomings are well documented. Or maybe you prefer the Belfast route. Longer miles but a motorway once you safely navigate the Glenshane and various stages of roadworks promising a bright new motoring dawn for the north west driver.
Whichever route you brave, it’s a long drive with plenty of scope for conversation and contemplation is also the route upon which Derry’s 2019 Christy Ring Cup campaign is currently being plotted.
Each Wednesday night, John McEvoy and Johnny McGuirk make the journey, sharing driving responsibilities and ideas about how to end the Oak Leaf county’s wait to capture a trophy they got closest to in 2015’s final defeat to Kerry.
Having come into the Derry senior post relatively late in the close season, McEvoy and McGuirk are in many ways still making up for lost time but the signs from the Division 2B campaign are encouraging with only Wicklow and a host of missed opportunities denying Derry promotion.
Attentions now turn to championship as Derry open their campaign on Saturday in Portaferry against a Down team who will have dominated its fair share of minutes between the capital and Kevin’s Lynch’s clubhouse every Wednesday.
“We get quite a lot of work done on the way up the road and the way back,” explains McGuirk, who also worked alongside McEvoy when he was Dublin U21 manager.
“That’s the thing, when we were involved with Dublin you found that every day you were totally immersed in it. We were having to get work done through our own work. Even though we do plenty of work at home, through a day we would know we have a certain number of things to do but now we can park that because we know we can get that done in the couple of hours travelling we have.
“There would be times we have the laptop in the passenger seat analysing the game or phone calls back and forward and the journeys do go fairly quick.”
“I genuinely think it would be hard to do it if you were travelling up and down the road on your own,” adds McEvoy who pays tribute to the support both men get from Faughanvale’s Terry Gray (liaison officer), Eoin Mac Nicholl (strength and conditioning) and selector Brian Delargy with whom he worked at Cushendall.
“I think that would make it a lot harder. We share the driving. We get our work done with Brian and Terry on the phone. It’s not ideal. You would love to be coming up three nights a week but we just can’t do that so there is a responsibility on the players to work. We have given them programmes to work and they have taken those on board.
“It is only a problem if you want to make it a problem.”
Derry should have Cormac O’Doherty, Brian Og McGilligan and Mark Craig back this weekend while Alan Grant’s faster than expected recovery from surgery mean he could become an option later in later Group One against Donegal or Wicklow. Dual star Brendan Rogers though will be unavailable with the footballers meeting Tyrone 24 hours later.
Derry have already defeated Down in the league this season, in what was McEvoy’s first competitive game in charge but the Mourne men impressed the Oak Leaf manager.
“We will be looking for every scrap of information we can get,” explains McEvoy, “It is a local derby. When we met in the league, it was only the puck of a ball between the counties and they had a man, somewhat unfortunately, sent off so there’s going to be nothing in this game.
“We haven’t mentioned any other game to the players. Since the end of the league it has only been about Down.
“I think the lads know themselves. First round of the Championship and it’s all to play for but we can only look at ourselves and, at this moment, we are happy with how the players are working. We will do our homework on Down, we definitely will.
“They are a seriously physical, mobile unit. That was the one thing I took from the match in Newry, how mobile they were, so we will have to make sure we are up to speed.”
“It’s all about the first game,” agrees McGuirk (above), “It is as simple as that. There is nothing between the two teams. We have to be focused and go at it hard and if Down are going to beat us, we have to make sure they earn it. We have to be right and ready and go at them. It is all about this opening game.”