Hurling and camogie

Derry hurling skipper Oisin McCloskey chooses to look forward

CHRISTY RING CUP, DERRY V DOWN, OWENBEG, 10-5-14.Derry's Oisin McCloskey and Ruairi Convery with Scott Nicholson of Down during Saturdays Christy Ring Cup match at Owenbeg. Picture Margaret McLaughlin © please by-line ///// 2014.
Michael McMullan

LESS is more.

That's the opinion of new Derry hurling captain Oisin McCloskey who has welcomed Oak Leaf boss Collie McGurk's new approach to training.

The 28-year-old Banagher man, one of four brothers on the squad, speaks of McGurk bringing the competitive spirit from his playing days into his role as manager.

“Collie has brought that to the table and he'll tell you no different,” outlined McCloskey.

“He would like a bit of his own style drilled into players, not in a mad way but in a sensible approach to put his own stamp on the team.”

McCloskey was married last year and his Site Manager job sees him clock up the miles. The demands of an inter-county career comes on top of that but this season McGurk has a different schedule on the table.

It helps not only McCloskey but has enticed last year's exiles back on board.

The Hinpheys and his own brother Ruairi have returned so too Paul Cleary.

Ruairi Convery and last year's captain Sean McCullagh have both committed again.

At the other end of the scale John Mullan and Odhrán McKeever have graduated from the minor ranks.

“When we met back in November theyy (management) were taking an approach to ease the burden on players in terms of how many nights we were out together.

“There were less nights training and we were given our own programmes.

“Running programmes, strength sessions to do on our own and wall-ball sessions. Players appreciate that, only meeting up twice a week in December and January.”

Quality is more important than quantity for McCloskey: “Managers nearly always think more is better.

“I would disagree strongly with that. If we are getting two nights off and you have a session on your own, then you're mad for the (squad) session on a Wednesday night and you get a real good session.”

On Sunday Clare's Gary Brennan gave the perfect example of life as a dual player. Less than 20 hours after lining out with his hurling club Ballyea, Brennan was rampaging through the Derry defence at Celtic Park.

In the case of McCloskey, he explains how McGurk's new approach allows the Banagher club to function. It's about a bit of give and take.

“We were out every night this week,” admitted McCloskey.

“Because there are so many of us on the county hurling panel, then there is Mark (Lynch), Peter Hagan and Gavin O'Neill on the football panel. If you don't go to club training then club training is a waste of time for the other boys.”

Derry had early season wins over Monaghan and UUJ in challenge games followed by a defeat against Antrim.

Also the squad was bolstered by securing the services of Cuala brothers Cian and Naoise Waldron, but they won't link up fully until the Dublin champions' interest in the All-Ireland Club championship ends.

In the Conor McGurk Cup Derry hammered Donegal before going down narrowly to QUB.

In the semi-final they met a rampant Down team who handed Derry an early season lesson, losing 1-28 to 0-9.

“We didn't read too much into it but it showed us the work we had to do,” commented McCloskey.

“Down had obviously done a fair bit of work, their stick work and their fitness was at championship level. They were well pumped up for it, they always are - Derry and Down games are feisty affairs.”

After rotating the goalkeeper jersey between outfield players Conor Quinn and Michael Kirkpatrick in pre-season, the long serving Darrell McDermott is now back.

Johnny O'Dwyer and Brian Óg McGilligan will bolster their attacking options too.

McCloskey references last season's relegation briefly but chooses to look forward: ”It was one big struggle as we all know.

It has been well documented but last year is now parked. We lost a lot of games but a lot of them were close calls.

“Against Down last year at Owenbeg, we led for the whole game but they took the lead in the last five minutes - it was things like that.

“Now it's about building back up slowly it's not going to be easy. We have a few men back on board and we'll hopefully get a few wins in the league and aim for promotion.”

Derry will spend their first two Sundays on the road. McCloskey is hopeful but still realistic: “It is a competitive league but it's one where we should be trying to win all our matches to be honest. We are away to Mayo and away to Meath.

“Meath won the Christy Ring (last year) and Mayo beat us last year. There won't be much in the teams so it'll be a tough start.”

The last date on the fixture list is Sunday, March 26 and a trip to Ballycran. A chance for redemption from the Dub debacle? Not yet.

“We, as a group of players, said at the start of the year we could win the league, so we know it our mind. The management for the past few weeks have talking about Mayo and how we go about beating them.”

McCloskey comes from a family steeped in hurling, his father Sean is an icon in the Banagher club.

Alongside brothers Darragh, Tiarnán and Ruairi, he will hope for a more fruitful path in the Derry jersey this season.

It would be easy to look back but Sunday is about a trip to Mayo and two vital league points.

Every journey starts with a single step.

VERDICT

LAST year was always destined to be tough for Derry but even they wouldn't have foreseen a winless season that left them relegated in League and Championship, writes Cahair O'Kane.

Still, when you consider what they had lost in terms of personnel from the team that had reached the previous year's Christy Ring Cup final, a struggle wasn't any great surprise.

Really and truly, Derry's hopes of genuine, long-term progress hinge on how many of Slaughtneil's hugely talented crop Collie McGurk can convince to throw on the red and white of their county once the All-Ireland club campaign ends.

Anything less than a healthy selection from what is now undoubtedly the strongest club panel in the county would undermine the county's chances of once more competing for Christy Ring success.

They have to get back to that level first and even without too many from the county champions, Derry should have enough quality at their disposal to be in strong contention.

The main concern will be the early season form that Marty Mallon's Down have shown, not least in a comprehensive Conor McGurk Cup win over Derry. Given that it's one up from Division 2A, it leaves them with weaker promotion hopes in that regard than through the Nicky Rackard Cup.

Derry won that competition in 2006 and haven't been back in it since.

With Louth first up, they will start as favourites ahead of Armagh to claim the tertiary honours.

The decision of the Hinphey brothers to make a u-turn on last year's retirements is a big plus, as is Ruairi Convery's call to commit for another season.

There is enough quality to win the Nicky Rackard, and the history of tight encounters with Down should ensure a challenge for the League title as well.

ONES TO WATCH

AFTER an era of unbridled domination from Slaughtneil, the county under-21 title last year went to Kevin Lynch's and that's reflected in the new faces around Owenbeg, writes Cahair O'Kane.

John Mullan – son of county minor boss John A – is promoted to the senior ranks along with clubmates Ciaran Steele and Corey O'Reilly, the latter with a particular eye for a score.

Paul Cleary is reintroduced to the panel after opting out last year, though it would be harder to include Kevin and Liam Hinphey under the ‘ones to watch' heading at this stage of their careers.

The big pre-season move was the capture of Cuala brothers Cian and Naoise Waldron.

The pair, who will form part of the Leinster club champions' squad for the upcoming All-Ireland club semi-final with Slaughtneil, were surprise call-ups but have made a glowing commitment to the county in their early weeks.

Their mother hails from The Loup and, although their talents may not be visible until after their club campaign ends, they will be welcome additions.

Hurling and camogie

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