Gilligan: Derry need to think long-term with Rory Gallagher at the helm
FORMER Derry player Conlieth Gilligan has said it’s time to think long-term with current manager Rory Gallagher as the Oak Leaf county prepare for Saturday’s Division Three final against Offaly at Croke Park.
A win would secure a second title in three years after their 2019 Division Four success, but the Ballinderry native believes the revolving door of management teams has not allowed them to challenge for more prestigious honours.
Since the turn of the Millennium, no Derry manager has made it to a fourth season with the majority in that period serving two-year terms.
This is Gallagher’s second season in charge, and Gilligan is in no doubt that he should remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“You have to back a very long time for a Derry management team to have stayed in place for more than two or three seasons,” he said. “Some of those by choice, some not.
“Paddy Crozier won the National League (in 2008). Yes they lost to Fermanagh in the Ulster semi-final but there was a clamour at county board level for change.
“In his first year (2006) Derry ousted Tyrone, they fell flat against Donegal but things were moving in the right direction.
“Damian Barton two years, John Brennan two years, Damian Cassidy two years, Damian McErlain two years.
“Managers are coming in and out and everyone has a different perspective on players so the panel changes again by five or six players.
“Rory was a popular choice amongst the players. If Derry can keep progressing then they need to hold onto him. The one thing all teams at the top end of the field have is a settled panel because most have a manager there for three, four, five years.
“Hold on to Rory, get the base and build. They’ll probably not be Ulster contenders this year but maybe next year or the year after that. They’ll be in Division Two next year and can push for Division One. Derry needs stability.”
Gilligan said that the Derry players should be absolutely delighted to have been given the chance to play at Croke Park this weekend.
Like the other three divisions, the final wasn’t due to be played as Offaly were due to meet Louth in the Leinster Championship in Navan on June 27. John Maughan’s side made a surprise call to play it though, and Gilligan also gave credit to the Faithful county.
“From a Derry perspective it’s a gift from the Gods,” he said.
“They’re still a few weeks away from their Ulster Championship match so they were going to need a challenge match anyway. Where better to get the game than a tough match in Croke Park?
“It’s a no-brainer for Derry but Offaly, I’m surprised they wanted it with the Louth game coming up.
“John Maughan is right though. They are on the crest of a wave. As he said the National League is their Championship.
“No disrespect to them but they’re not winning Leinster. They’ve been promoted though and a Croke Park game will bring them on.
“He said, a bit tongue in cheek, that some of his players haven’t been to Croke Park never mind playing in it. But he is right, they haven’t played a lot there.
“To get to Croke Park, to get comfortable there, can only make you better.
“Antrim and Louth should maybe have looked at it from the same perspective. They’re definitely progressing but that’s their level.”
Gilligan, who finished playing with Derry back in 2012, feels that Gallagher’s alterations this season are paying dividends.
“Gareth McKinless is now a main stay and he wasn’t there in previous years. Gareth is someone who can play at six, someone who can mark, someone who can go to three or someone who can drive forward.
“Chrissy McKaigue has moved back into a marking role so Rory has changed things.
“All the players in Derry you want available are available. You could argue about one or two but no one has left, no one has dropped out.
“They are more attacking and they are a bit more open at the back as a result, but they are still sound.
“The mix is just about right for Division Three. The question in the Championship is will it be right for good Division One teams.”