Brendan Rogers says Derry’s only focus is League final against Dublin

The Oak Leafers lost heavily to the All-Ireland champions in last year’s Division Two decider and renew battle for Division One honours on Sunday

Brendan Rogers
Brendan Rogers Derry’s Brendan Rogers at Tuesday's media day ahead of Sunday’s Allianz Football League Division One final against Dublin (©INPHO/Dan Sheridan ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan/©INPHO/Dan Sheridan)

BRENDAN Rogers says Derry’s full focus is on being crowned League champions, a subtle change from last year when they had one eye on the Championship.

The Allstar midfielder revealed that winning the Division One title was one of the targets they set out for themselves at the beginning of this season.

Derry will face Dublin on Sunday in a repeat of last year’s Division Two final and Rogers said that while they had one eye on the Championship last year, eventually conceding four goals to Dublin and losing, they have ‘two eyes on this League final now’.

Derry could be forgiven for prioritising their blockbuster Ulster opener with Donegal on April 20 but Rogers said there’s no chance of that happening.

“For us it’s two eyes on this final,” said the back-to-back Ulster SFC title-winner.

“Last year, I suppose there was a lot more pressure on us because we were seen maybe as the flash in the pan – first Ulster championship in 2022, can you back it up? And obviously we were sort of a bit more focused on that than we were on the League final.

“I suppose that’s maybe natural enough given the position that we were in. This now is a Division One final. It holds a fair amount of prestige. I don’t think any team would turn their nose up at it. We’re definitely looking forward to it.”

Manager Mickey Harte experienced Division One success with Tyrone though Rogers said Derry’s tunnel vision on lifting the League trophy isn’t particularly linked to the new management.

“We were at a different level in terms of our team and our camp,” said Rogers of last year’s Division Two campaign.

“We were trying to get a hold on how we could handle ourselves on a consistent basis at the top level and we emphasised at the time that we had to prove ourselves at Championship level and that was probably our focus.

“But that is not to say that we would not have focused on the League. It’s more than our target was getting promoted first and foremost, the second one then was the Championship.

“From the outset this year, we said we wanted to win the McKenna Cup, we wanted to win the League. Those were our first two goals so that’s why our attention is maybe slightly different this year, because we set out that we wanted to win a league and that ultimately means you want to win a league final. That’s probably just a shift in perspective in terms of where we are as a team.”

If Slaughtneil man Rogers does find his mind drifting to April 20, it may not just be because of football.

“It’ll actually be my 30th birthday as well,” he smiled.

But experienced Rogers, a former dual player with Derry, made it clear that he isn’t counting down towards retirement despite the milestone occasion.

“I’m going to try to stretch it out as long as possible, basically try to keep myself injury free,” he said of his Derry career.

“That’s all I can do and then whether you’re good enough to be picked, that’s another thing. But I think I’ll try to soldier on for a few years yet.”

It isn’t just Rogers’ longevity that is impressive but his versatility. When Derry contested the Division Four final in 2019, the then full-back wore number three against Leitrim.

Ironically, Leitrim will contest another Division Four final five years on, against Laois this Saturday, though Derry have rocketed up through the divisions to the summit of the game.

“People would have said Derry should never have been in Division Four but that’s where we were on merit,” said Rogers.

“Did I think at that point that we’d be here so quickly again? Probably not.

“I guess things didn’t look like they were going that way but when Rory Gallagher came in, he made it quite clear that there would be players on this team that would win trophies and Allstars and that we would be talking about Championships and competing for All-Irelands.

“You found it hard to believe him in the beginning but a few weeks had gone by and you see how things had changed, it’s unbelievable how your mentality switches as well. Yeah, probably shortly after that final we realised we could if we followed the steps and got the work in.”