Slaughtneil's Shane McGuigan believes Derry can trouble Tyrone on Sunday
KNOW your enemy – but know yourselves too. It might be a stretch to say that Shane McGuigan is confident about Derry’s chances against Tyrone this Sunday but his faith in his fellow Oak Leafers gives him a certain belief.
Derry might not defeat the Red Hands in Omagh, but the Slaughtneil forward at least expects he and his team-mates to lay a few gloves on them.
It’s 13 long years since Derry beat Tyrone in the senior championship, in Healy Park, and the 22-year-old wants the rivalry to be much more intense than it has been in recent meetings:
“I have vague memories of that . Francis McEldowney [of Slaughtneil] was playing.
“Those were the days when Derry football could go toe to toe with Tyrone. That’s something that we as a group of players need to be striving to do, to better ourselves.
“I’ve just been finishing up Sean Cavanagh’s book, and he talks about the rivalry with Derry. It’s something that can’t be under-estimated.
“We know that the people of Derry don’t deserve where Derry football is at at the minute. We do have to improve. It may not be this year, although we got out of Division Four, thankfully. Over time, in the next two or three years, hopefully we’ll be starting to put a smile back on the people of Derry’s faces.”
Asked about the need to restore pride, after being in Division Four and losing their last two Ulster SFC matches at home to Tyrone by 11-point margins, McGuigan instead expresses pride:
“Derry football is known right throughout the country. There are leaders throughout the dressing room, Chrissy McKaigue, Ciaran McFaul, Conor McAtamney, these are boys of top quality that any team in Ireland would want to have.
“We know the results weren’t good enough. We just want to perform against a top Division One team, and try to build on that.”
McGuigan refutes the suggestion that Derry are under ‘no pressure’ as they travel to take on last year’s All-Ireland Finalists:
“Well, you can say that, but on Championship day you’re under the pressure. Especially after the last few years – maybe 10, 15 years - when Derry haven’t performed to the certain standard that they should be performing to, because there’s some quality footballers in Derry, have no doubt about it. It’s about getting them all working together.”
Besides those three players he cites above, there’s another man with the initials CM who has boosted Derry - a former Tyrone player, who is helping to train the Oak Leafers this season.
“Damian McErlain has brought in Ciaran Meenagh this year, who has made a massive improvement. We are really starting to gel together as a team.”
Another positive factor, of course, is that Slaughtneil’s bid for an unprecedented Derry SFC five-in-a-row ended at the semi-final stage last year, so they were involved in the county’s National League campaign from the outset.
“Last year some of the Slaughtneil boys came late into the fold. There’s no excuses being made this year. We’ve had right through from January to prepare. We knew ages ago who we were playing – and from that point it’s just been focus on Tyrone.
“We know the standards that Derry football should be setting itself and we intend to rectify that.”
With all due modesty, McGuigan reluctantly accepts the point that there’s a different perception of Derry with the Slaughtneil men – Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, Brendan Riogers, Paul McNeill, Padraig Cassidy, ‘Sammy’ Bradley, and himself – fully involved with Derry:
“There are still good players there but definitely the Slaughtneil boys do add a bit more to our defence and our forward play.
“We always felt we were good enough, it’s just about performing. Training structures haven’t been right in the past, it’s not about [the quality of] individuals.
“The last couple of years coming in late, we haven’t really had the full whack at Derry. That wasn’t fair on the [Derry] management too, to not have the full team at his disposal.
“It has worked well this year, we’ve gelled together a lot better as a team, and that’s something Damian tried to rectify from last year, mixing together as a team.”
Indeed, the county boss has been working to build a ‘club Derry’ rather than a ‘club first’ ethos, especially on their long away trips in the League, to Waterford and Limerick:
“Damian McErlain was mixing up hotel rooms so people weren’t just staying with their friends. That has brought us all together, definitely.”
He’s somewhat startled, though, by the joking suggestion that the Derry club scene is now one of ‘love and peace’, retorting: “I dunno about that there!
“Everyone knows the Derry club scene is as fierce as anywhere in Ireland. Ballinderry, ourselves in Slaughtneil, have gone right to the All-Ireland stage. We got beat by Swatragh recently, which speaks volumes. Club games are better than any training match, our fitness levels can’t be questioned.”
Having said all that, McGuigan knows it will be even tougher against Tyrone:“In their League campaign they got off to a slow start but then you really saw what they’re about. They beat Dublin on their own patch, in Croke Park.
“They’ve adopted a new style of play. We’ve been doing the video analysis trying to pinpoint certain aspects of their game we can home in on – and hopefully it all comes together on the 12th of May.
“You’re still going up against guys like Paudie Hampsey and Ronan McNamee, so it’ll not be an easy hour.”
Yet he insists he is well-prepared for such challenges: “I know that’s something that will be vastly different – but you go out onto the training pitch and you’re marking Niall Keenan, Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, Karl McKaigue, these are all people that would step onto any other county team in Ireland, in my opinion.
“A county like Tyrone would love to have them. So I’m getting as good a test out there as I will in Healy Park.”