“We didn’t play well and everyone was itching to get back at it...” Derry determined to rally in All-Ireland series says Eoin McEvoy

Oak Leafers to meet winners of the Galway-Mayo Connacht final, the Ulster losers and Westmeath

Conor O'Neill closes in on Derry's Eoin McEvoy during their Ulster final clash at Clones. Picture by Philip Walsh
Eoin McEvoy won the Ulster Championship in his first season with the Derry seniors and added a Dr McKenna Cup and National League so far this year

THE time to prepare for the start of the Sam Maguire series will be well spent, promises Eoin McEvoy, who says losing to Donegal has increased “the bite” in Derry training.

McEvoy tasted defeat for the first time in Ulster when three in-a-row chasing Derry were surprised by goal-hungry Donegal at Celtic Park. The positive from the loss was that Mickey Harte’s men get a much longer break to prepare for the All-Ireland group stage which has pitted them against the winners of the Galway-Mayo Connacht final, the Ulster final losers and Westmeath.

Last year Galway were the only provincial champions to win in the first round of group games (Derry were held to a draw by Monaghan) but Lynch, who admits he would prefer to be preparing for an Ulster final, says the novelty of the new system was a factor in that.

“Last year was the first year of it (the group stage) so I suppose if we were in the same position again it would be different,” said the PWC/GPA Player of the Month for March.

“I’d say teams are now preparing more for the round robin series. Two weeks’ (preparation) is long enough – it’s down to the individual to get your head down. We had breaks in the League of two weeks and it was plenty of time to get stuff done. Two weeks is plenty.”

McEvoy rejected the suggestion that Derry’s Ulster quarter-final defeat to Donegal was a hangover from their victory over Dublin in the Division One decider. The League decider went to extra-time and penalties but McEvoy insisted it wasn’t a factor in the loss to Jim McGuinness-inspired Donegal.

PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for March in football, Eoin McEvoy of Derry, with his award at PwC offices in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
PwC GAA/GPA Player of the Month for March in football, Eoin McEvoy of Derry, with his award at PwC offices in Dublin. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile (Ramsey Cardy / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

“We played 12 games in 13 weeks with McKenna Cup and League but ‘hangover’ is the wrong word,” he said.

“We had a three-week gap to the Donegal game – we prepared very well for it. We trained hard and smart and we thought we were in a good place. Obviously, the game didn’t go the way we wanted it to but it’s wrong to say it was a hangover.

“That game showed how competitive the Ulster Championship is – everybody wants to win it and everybody probably believes they can win it. That’s the beauty of the Ulster Championship, it’s very competitive and if you’re not at the races you’re going to get beat.

“That’s been shown in all the Ulster games – Tyrone-Cavan was tight, Tyrone-Donegal was a very good game and Armagh-Down.”

As McEvoy highlighted, Derry scored 17 points in their loss to Donegal which is a very decent tally. What let them down were issues on the Donegal kick-outs and he says the break will be spent fixing “the flaw in the system”.

“Thank God it’s not July, the business-end of the season and you’re pure scratching your head for five or six months to try and get back,” he said.

“Derry have the time and we’re going to use it wisely now.”

After losing to Donegal at Celtic Park, the Derry team and management congregated on the following Tuesday night and quickly put the defeat to bed. McEvoy says the loss has brought a “bite to training” as the Oak Leafers focus on learning and moving on.

“We didn’t play well and I suppose everyone was itching to get back to the drawing board, back at it,” he said.

“That’s typical of the group, everyone wants to get back to where we were. It shows us we need that hunger and, if we’re not on it, what can happen to us. That brings back the bite to training, everyone’s on their toes again. We have three or four weeks now until we play a provincial champion and that’s a challenge we’re really looking forward to.”