Threadbare Derry up against it in Meath
Allianz National Hurling League Division 2B: Meath v Derry (tomorrow, 2pm, Pairc Tailteann)
MEATH may have a deepening injury list following their comprehensive win over Down last weekend, but they won’t have to cope with the shortage of numbers Collie McGurk is dealing with.
Their one-point win down in Mayo last Sunday was an impressive return from such a young team, made all the more so by the fact that they travelled to Castlebar with just 17 players.
Teenagers Darragh Cartin and Tiernan O’Kane were the only two subs after Breandan Quigley pulled up injured before the game. The lack of depth showed as Mayo whittled a six-point lead down to just one near the end, but the Oak Leafers held out to secure an important Allianz League victory.
Meath, though, look as though they will be a different prospect. Down had enjoyed a good pre-season, including a big win over Derry in the McGurk Cup, but all their optimism was truly crushed in Navan.
The Christy Ring Cup champions served warning of their intentions with a crushing 4-21 to 1-10 win over Marty Mallon’s side.
Joey Keena, who netted just 30 seconds into that game, will miss tomorrow’s game. He could be out for up to a month with a facial injury sustained in the second half against Down.
Darragh Kelly and Mark O’Sullivan remain on the absentee list after missing their side’s opening game, though their manager Martin Ennis will still have a deeper well than his counterpart.
Derry look likely to still be without Liam Hinphey, and McGurk has drafted in his nephew and clubmate Liam Murphy (Lavey) and former minor captain Thomas Magee (Eoghan Rua) to bolster the squad.
Kevin Lynch’s defender Odhran McKeever – son of former Allstar footballer and distinguished hurler Kieran – will also join up with the squad, although not in time for this weekend’s game.
McGurk handed a few debuts last week, not least to Gavin McCormick, a native of Foreglen who hurls for Kevin Lynch’s. The Oak Leaf boss was impressed by how McCormick – commonly known as ‘George’ - handled himself.
”Big George was super. He’s a handful. He rotated between centre-half and full-forward, he spent most of the game at full-forward. He won the penalty himself. He got a lot of treatment off the ball, which he was able to take and stick with it.
“Another pleasing aspect was young [Brian Óg] McGilligan’s performance, even aside from the two points. He put in a big, big shift for us. Young Paddy Turner as well.
“All the young players that came in did really well. He was on their paciest forward and did well on him. It will take them a wee bit of time to adjust to the pace of it.”
The deferral of Slaughtneil’s All-Ireland club hurling semi-final by three weeks was great news for the club, but not the ideal outcome for the Derry boss in terms of their National League campaign.
Not only did it rule out the Emmet’s contingent, but it also meant Cuala brothers Cian and Naoise Waldron won’t be available either until at least early March.
“The postponement of Slaughtneil’s hurling game left us in a much worse position. Either way, the outcome would have benefited us if it had been played earlier, because we would have had either the two Cuala players or the Slaughtneil players,” admits McGurk.
“It is what it is, and we’re getting on with it. We follow this up with two home games and we just want to keep improving.”
Kiltale clubman James Kelly caught the eye for Meath last weekend with five points from play, while the threats of Steven Clynch and Adam Gannon are well known by now.
For the hosts this is a chance to take a huge step towards promotion. Another gutsy Derry display may not be enough this time.
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