GAA Football

Derry need to "rise above" challenges says Karl McKaigue

Derry defender Karl McKaigue is pleased with the grit his side showed against Antrim. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

ANTRIM brought everything they had to Corrigan Park on Sunday, and Karl McKaigue says that Derry must find a way to “rise above” the potholes that could be scattered along the road back to Division Three.

At one stage the visitors to west Belfast led by six but with a minute to play, the sides were level at 1-9 apiece. Antrim were playing with the gale at their backs and the excited voice boxes of their supporters were being well exercised.

But having missed a penalty through Enda Lynn, Derry turned the ball over again and Padraig Cassidy fisted what turned out to be the winner as they held out for the four added minutes.

It seemed almost instantly like a significant result in terms of the promotion race, with Leitrim’s 13-point win over Wexford changing the face of the race.

Derry face London in Owenbeg this weekend and Slaughtneil defender McKaigue feels they will have to keep their levels up if they’re to avoid getting caught out.

“You never really think about being favourites too much. Every team in this division is going to raise their game, they’re going to see Derry as the team that probably shouldn’t be in Division Four and up it a few levels.

“That’s up to us to deal with it. We have enough quality in the players we have to rise above it and put in good performances.

“Antrim brought a hell of a gameplan to that. They made it awkward, they made it so hard to score, they were very sound defensively.

“Antrim’s tails were up, they’d a strong breeze and we were under the cosh. We had to win a few kickouts, to be fair to Postie [Thomas Mallon] he kept his cool and picked out a few men and we got the ball worked up.

“It’s encouraging that we showed a wee bit of grit and heart because that’s something you can’t really train for. We can improve on the quality, but it’s good to know the heart’s there.”

It’s the first time McKaigue, and his Slaughtneil team-mates, have been involved with Derry at the beginning of a League campaign since 2016.

Even since then, it’s a remarkably changed Derry team. Nine of the 19 players Damian McErlain used on Sunday have little or no inter-county experience, and at the grand old age of 25 he finds himself in the ‘experienced’ bracket.

“There were debuts there, Eoghan Concannon, Sean Frank Quinn and Eamon McGill – that’s three of your back six already so it was never going to be easy to gel straight away.

“Although we did have some good performances in the McKenna Cup, you don’t really know where you are at until the National League. Those boys did stand up when we needed them.

“I know the average age is very young, but Ciaran McFaul’s been playing county football since he was 19, Conor McAtamney’s the same, Christopher [his brother] has been playing for a lifetime, Emmett Bradley and so on.

“You can’t tag it all on a lack of experience – there’s plenty of leaders and plenty of quality.”

Meanwhile, Derry boss Damian McErlain said after the game that forward Ryan Bell is still “four or five weeks away” from a return to action, while there is no sense of certainty over Brendan Rogers.

Bell turned his ankle in the early moments of the McKenna Cup tie with Tyrone, while Rogers has been struggling since last summer with an ongoing foot injury.

“For Brendan, it could be one or five [weeks]. Brendan could shape next week, we don’t know,” said McErlain.

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