Players coming back into Derry fold can only be good for us says Oak Leaf forward Aaron Kelly
SAFELY away from the relegation mire but with hopes of promotion straight back up to Division 2A also ended, you couldn’t blame Derry if they were heading into Sunday week’s all-Ulster clash against Down struggling for motivation.
Instead, the Oak Leafers will travel to Ballycran full of optimism not just as a result of their 13-point win over Roscommon, but because they are starting to get numbers back as preparations in earnest for a crack at the Nicky Rackard Cup.
Four of the Slaughtneil contingent returned to county colours against the Rossies, with Dominic Mullan and Eanna Cassidy starting while Mark McGuigan and Ruairi McCartney came off the bench to good effect.
More Emmet’s players could come back into the fold in the aftermath of the footballers’ St Patrick’s Day final with Dr Croke’s, while Cuala brothers Naoise and Cian Waldron – also in All-Ireland final action against Ballyea on Friday - will come back into the fold in time for the Nicky Rackard opener against Louth on April 22.
“That’s a great boost,” said nippy corner-forward Aaron Kelly, who insists he has no issue with the Dublin-based siblings lining out for their mother’s native county.
“It’s always worked against us, so if it’s there we may as well use it. Lots of other teams are benefitting from it so, if it’s there, we may as well try and benefit from it as well.
“We had the two guys up until the Slaughtneil game – they’re good lads. It’ll be good to get them back as well as the Slaughtneil boys.
“We’re getting the panel back nicely now. We were struggling with numbers with injuries and suspensions, but things are looking up.”
Kelly bagged 1-1 as Derry eventually saw off the dogged Rossies, a victory that staved off any lingering talk of relegation.
A strong start to the game and a blistering finish did the damage for Collie McGurk’s men, and the Oak Leaf boss says he is happy with the progress Derry have made since he took charge.
"Coming into the season, unless we had deepened our squad, Derry hurling would have been in big difficulties,” said the Lavey man.
“The age profile might have been veering towards seven or eight over 30 and it is nice to gets the likes of Odhran McKeever, Darragh Cartin, Jonathan O'Dwyer, Ciaran Steele and Gavin McCormick in. They’re all around 18 to 21 or so.
"If we can get a couple more of the Slaughtneil boys after the football, we will give the Nicky Rackard a serious shout.”
Despite romping across the line on Sunday, Derry still struggled to make their dominance count at times, firing over a succession of wides.
With Marty Mallon’s Down up this weekend, McGurk knows there is work to be done.
He added: “We had 26 attacks and only 11 scores in the first half [against Roscommon]. We had two or three really good goal chances in the first half and didn't take them.
“They could have made the second half a bit easier for us but regardless of that it is nice to get a win. Popping in those two late goals, it put a bit of gloss on the scoreboard.”