Trip to the 'The Hyde' is a match that matters for Derry's top flight aspirations
Allianz Football League Division Two: Roscommon v Derry (tomorrow, Dr Hyde Park, 2pm)
DERRY’S journey of progress rolls towards another crossroads tomorrow in the Dr Hyde Park against an unbeaten Roscommon.
Ever since they returned from a two-point defeat Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the last game before lockdown in 2020, Rory Gallagher’s side have been stepping upward.
Their 100 per cent record, aided by a scoring difference of 37 - the best in the country – has taken them ahead of Galway in the table.
And with that has followed significantly more chatter of a team trying to pull up a chair at the top table.
There was a refining of both the panel and backroom team. As well as their ‘commit to each other’ mantra that has tinged many of Rory Gallagher’s post-game interviews.
Since then, Derry have won all 11 League games, including the Division Three league decider against Offaly in Croke Park.
As well as that, Derry tasted belief and sheer devastation at running Donegal to within a whisker of the Championship before falling short.
Gallagher has been spinning two plates since their defeat to Cork two years ago – consistency in selection and giving youth its chance. The addition of Shane Heavron – who previously played under Damian Barton in 2017 – was the only player outside Derry’s golden underage generation.
Goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch, Ethan Doherty and Shane McGuigan have started all 11 games of their winning run, with five more players missing out on the starting 15 only once.
That’s the level of consistency that was absent, for a number of reasons, as the county plummeted to Division Four.
In an interview with the County Derry Post before last season’s League, the Derry boss stressed the need to win games ‘that matter’, pointing to key relegation/promotion battles they’d lost in the past.
Tomorrow’s clash with the Rossies ticks that box. Over their shoulder, Galway will visit Owenbeg and there’s a final round trip to Navan, but momentum has been another one of Derry’s best friends and they’ll want to keep the winning run going.
Of their last 10 seasons, Roscommon have spent two in Division Three and the rest – split equally – stepped up and down between the top two tiers.
Blowing a three-point lead and having to settle for a draw at home to Clare has been the only blot on their record this year.
Conor Cox missed the Cork game, but managed 0-15 across the other games. Donie Smith has amassed the same tally, will rotating in and out of the inside during games. Enda Smith is another scoring threat in front od a consistent midfield pairing of Ultan Haney and Eddie Nolan.
Derry trained over their free weekend and if Gareth McKinless, Padraig Cassidy and Ciaran McFaul are back to full pelt, it will bring a significant level of competition to the squad.
McKaigue and Brendan Rogers will likely be handed the tasks of nullifying Cox and Donie Smith, an area that will shape the game.
Between them, Roscommon (against Meath) have conceded just one goal, pointing to a tight encounter. For their part, Derry have been in control. It was tight against Clare a spell before a Benny Heron goal opened up the game.
It’s hard to see anyone other that Derry, Galway or Roscommon making the climb to the top flight. If the Oak Leafers can keep a fifth consecutive clean sheet in ‘The Hyde’ tomorrow, they’ll pick up two vital points. That’s the margins involved.