Location, location, location counts for Derry hurlers
Derry hurling manager Collie McGurk is more than pleased with the choice of today’s venue for his side’s biggest game of the season.
Dean McGlinchey Park in Ballinascreen, in the very heart of south Derry, will provide the picturesque setting for today’s Christy Ring opener between Derry and London.
With Owenbeg still not quite playable the Derry management were anxious to take hurling around the club grounds with today’s venue providing the ideal location.
“We’re very pleased,” enthused McGurk on the eve of the match.
“It’s the key game of the season and it’s where we wanted the game to be played.
“IWe played all our league games at Celtic Park and we were missing as many as 30 players from the 36 man Nicky Rackard panel so it shows you the rebuilding job that was needed.”
With a heavy and relentless traffic jam of club football and hurling games in recent weeks, McGurk has struggled to congregate all his players in any sort of regular training rota, but the Lavey man does have the luxury of fielding one of his strongest panels of the year.
The Oakleafers laboured in the league this season with five defeats resulting in a Division 2B wooden spoon.
However, with the gun to their temple, Derry produced their best performance of the year in that 2-22 to 0-9 play-off victory over Armagh, goals from Sé McGuigan and Meehaul McGrath helping Derry to their only win of the season.
McGuigan and McGrath are joined today by fellow Slaughtneil team-mates Sean Cassidy (full-back), Cormac McKenna (centre-half), Mark McGuigan and Chrissy McKaigue (midfield) and forwards Meehaul McGrath, Cormac O’Doherty, Se McGuigan, Brendan Rogers and free-taker Cormac O’Doherty.
“We’re missing Gerald Bradley who’ll be a big loss,” said the Lavey man of the sizeable Slaughtneil presence. “But I am delighted to have seven or eight starting and Brian Cassidy on the bench.”
McGurk’s hand is further strengthened with the return of Cuala men Cian and Naoise Waldron.
Swatragh man Micky Kirkpatrick continues between the sticks for Derry, but while captain Oisin McCloskey is still out, brother Darragh
and Colm Murphy are named both named at corner back for today’s encounter.
The influential Alan Grant misses out with a hand injury, but Banagher’s Jack Phelan continues his fine season at half back while half-back partner Paul Cleary happily togs out at his home ground.
While Derry will harbour quiet hopes of returning to Croke Park for the first time since 2015’s defeat to Kerry, London themselves lifted the Christy Ring as recently as 2012 with that impressive eight point win over Wicklow.
Forward Henry Vaughan represents the Exiles sole survivor from that victorious campaign, in a team that will travel to Ballinascreen with hopes of producing another successful enterprise.
London themselves have struggled so far this year, but playing in the more rarefied air of Division 2A should stand to them in Ballinsacreen. Fergus McMahon’s men will once again look to free-taker Richard Murphy who excelled in a disappointing league campaign.
“London have been playing in the league above us,” concluded McGurk, “but now it’s all about the Championship, and I hope we’re ready for it.''