GAA Football

Derry not a Division Four teams says Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher ahead of Dr McKenna Cup clash

Fermanagh Rory Gallagher and top scorer Darragh McGurn after the Ernemen's McKenna Cup opener against UU on December 15. Pic Philip Walsh.
Andy Watters

DERRY are not a Division Four team in Fermanagh manager Rory Gallagher’s opinion but despite the Oak Leaf county’s proud history and the ability in their squad, that’s where they will be playing their football this season.

Gallagher’s Fermanagh host Derry at Brewster Park on Sunday and the Ernemen will have high hopes of taking the two points they need off Damian McErlain’s young side to give themselves a fighting chance of making it through to the last four of the Dr McKenna Cup.

Fermanagh had two points to spare when the counties met in Division Three last year heading in opposite directions – Gallagher’s men to the second tier, Derry to the basement division.

Derry’s priority is promotion this year while consolidation in Division Two would do for Fermanagh who kicked on with a spectacular Championship run after winning promotion last year.

They stunned Armagh – who had beaten them in the Division Three final – at the quarter-final stage of the Ulster Championship and went on to record a famous last-gasp win over highly-fancied Monaghan before taking on Donegal in the final.

Victory at Clones proved to be beyond the Ernemen but Gallagher and his men have regrouped to prepare for life in dog-eat-dog Division Two this year. They began their McKenna Cup group programme with a 1-9 to 0-12 draw against Ulster University on December 15 and finish it against Tyrone some three and-a-half weeks later on January 9.

Six points from Darragh McGurn (five of them in the first half), a goal for Conall Jones and the return of Enniskillen Gaels midfielder Richard O’Callaghan to county colours were the highlights of the draw with Ulster University.

“It was hard to get excited about any of the fixtures pre-Christmas,” said Gallagher.

“We were glad to get the first game out of the way. It was very early but it’s good now to get Derry and Tyrone within the space of four days and, although Derry are in Division Four, I don’t think anybody sees them as a Division Four team.

“They are two good tests for us.”

A few days after Fermanagh drew with Ulster University, Derry were well beaten at Celtic Park by a Tyrone side that included only four of the players who had started last year’s All-Ireland final against Dublin. Buoyed by the returns of Kyle Coney and Conan Grugan and the debut of Darragh Canavan, son of 2003 All-Ireland-winning captain Peter, the Red Hands were well worth their 0-20 to 0-12 win.

“At this time of the year Tyrone have traditionally been as strong as anybody in the whole country and they are well capable of winning games by large margins,” Gallagher observed.

“But I think Derry will be delighted to have their Slaughtneil players back and we are expecting them to have a stronger team out. Hopefully they will and it’ll be a really competitive game.”

Gallagher admits that the December opener against the Jordanstown students was “a funny one”. For him, the season starts on Sunday.

“It was a funny one, it was hard for either team to get overly excited about it,” he said.

“It was a horrendous day and then there were the experimental rules so it was a gentle introduction to the season. It’s good to get moved on.

“It was useful to get a starting point because we would probably have played a challenge match pre-season anyway. It was good to get a start but there’ll be bigger tests.”

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