Johnny McGuirk: focus is on ourselves and the first game
Getting work done on the road is the key for Derry hurling management duo John McEvoy and Johnny McGuirk.
Their car journeys north from Dublin to Derry's base at Owenbeg and Dungiven's Kevin Lynch Park, where the county held their recent media evening, are an important part of their planning.
Former Laois hurler McEvoy, from the Clough-Ballacolla club, is a former Dublin U21 boss.
He heads the management team that also includes McGuirk – another former Dublin U21 manager.
"We get quite a lot of work done on the way up the road and the way back,” McGuirk admits.
“We do plenty of work at home.
"Through the day we would know we have a certain number of things to do but we can park that because we know we can get that done in the couple of hours travelling that we have.”
McGuirk and McEvoy share the driving, with much of the journey spent on the phone to liaison officer Terry Gray, strength and conditioning coach Eóin McNicholl and selector Brian Delargy, whom McEvoy met when coaching his club, Cushendall, two seasons ago.
"There would be times when we have the laptop in the passenger seat analysing the game or phone calls back and forward and the journeys do go fairly quick,” McGuirk adds.
In round one of the league, a late goal from Alan Grant helped them to victory over a Down side that played much of the second-half with 14 men, following Mark Patterson's second booking.
Derry went on to defeat Donegal, Warwickshire and Kildare before meeting Wicklow twice.
After their league final defeat to Garden county, Derry's players went back into club action for the month of April, with four rounds of football fixtures and three hurling games.
“We knew April was going to be tricky enough with lads going back to the club and playing games,” added McGuirk.
“You want to make ground but at the same time, you don't want the players flogged. We tried to manage it as best we could.
"We have lads with a few niggles coming back out from it. We are through it now and the focus is on ourselves and the first game.”
Brian Óg McGilligan picked up an injury in their defeat to Wicklow, a game that Cormac O'Doherty missed with a hand injury.
McGuirk stressed, with injury inevitable, the need for a strong squad at inter-county level.
Since only meeting the players in the first week of January, the Craobh Chiaráin man feels Derry are perfectly pitched for championship.
“We are looking lads to step up and take their chance when they get it. We feel now, that with lads coming back in, there is a lot of competition.
“We went looking at picking a championship team. It was like x's and o's in that we have options.
“It is development. We were happy that we made ground from the first (Wicklow) match to the second but we were disappointed to lose it, at the end of the day it is just about building and getting right for Saturday.”
Antrim currently rolling out their new Gaelfast programme to reinvent ‘enthusiasm and involvement' in Gaelic Games across the city of Belfast.
With his experience in hurling in Dublin, McGuirk is well placed to give his views on the development of the game in the capital: "If Dublin hurling is to make ground, they have to keep pushing and pushing it because if you go into a particular school, the students have the choice of playing five or six different sports.
“Maybe if a teacher is into soccer, the school will have a decent soccer team.
"If they are into hurling, they will have a decent hurling team.”
McGuirk feels that GPO's linking clubs and schools together ‘definitely' helps getting players into the clubs, which will in turn feed development squads come in.
“There are pros and cons to development squads,” McGuirk feels.
“At U13, it is very elitist. From my perspective I think it should be wider.
“They should open it up to as many players as possible, get in good coaches. It is about educating the coaches to a good level.
"From a Dublin perspective, there is a lot of drop off as well.
"There are lads that go off and travel, others who get a job (away from Dublin) whereas if you get a hurler from a young age at a club like Kevin Lynch's, the chances are he is going to be a high standard and he is going to hurl away for a long time, it is two different parameters.”