Tyrone's Dooher believes Derry are Division One standard
TYRONE joint-manager Brian Dooher believes they will be playing Division One opposition in all but name when they face Derry in the Ulster SFC quarter-final in Healy Park on May 1.
After the Red Hands eventually negotiated a tricky preliminary round encounter with Fermanagh on Saturday evening at Brewster Park, attention immediately swung to the match in Omagh and Dooher feels that even though the Oak Leafs fell short in their push for promotion from Division Two of the Allianz Football League with Galway and Roscommon taking the top two spots, they possess the quality to be considered a top flight team.
"They were unlucky not to get promotion. They have been the in-form team in League football this last two years," said Dooher of Derry.
"Under Rory Gallagher, they have come on leaps and bounds, and they pose a very stiff challenge for us. They should be in Division One I think. You have Galway, Roscommon and Derry, and there’s not a kick of a ball between them.
"So we know what we’ll be facing. They’ll work hard and they’ll be fit and very well organised.
"It’s up to us to get our bodies recovered, look back, take the learning out of this game, move it forward, look at Derry and see what we can bring to the game."
Gallagher has successfully brought the intensity of the club rivalry within Derry to the senior county set-up and an All-Ireland minor title last year, albeit the delayed 2020 renewal of the competition, shows there is talent coming off the conveyor belt.
Slaughtneil have won three Ulster club titles in the last eight years, while last year's Derry champions Glen had enjoyed considerable underage success before making that long awaited senior breakthrough.
An upsurge in Derry football since they plunged to the depths of Division Four in 2018 means Tyrone must be wary according to Dooher and even though they won't be rubbing shoulders with their neighbours in League football next season, the Clan na Gael man ranks them highly.
"They have some great footballers. You have the Glen team, you have the Slaughtneil team back-boning them, and you have good minors and U20s coming through over the last few years," he said.
"So they have a lot of quality and a lot of pedigree running through their team.
"Derry are back up there now, they’re at the top table, more or less, that’s the way I see them, and they deserve to be there."
Similarities have already been drawn between this year's clash and the 2006 meeting of the two sides in Omagh.
As now, Tyrone were the reigning All-Ireland champions but an inspired Derry side frustrated them, holding them scoreless for the entire first half before claiming a famous win, thanks in no small part to 1-3 from Enda Muldoon.
Dooher captained the defeated Tyrone team that day and when asked what his memories were like from the match, he replied: "They’re not great, and that shows you what Derry are capable of, and I’d say they’re probably a better team now.
"We haven’t played much Championship football in Omagh, and I’m sure Derry won’t mind coming to Omagh, it’s a pitch with two goalposts at either end of it."
Tyrone eventually got the better of a determined Erne challenge on Saturday evening, Conor Meyler's goal late in the first half allowing to take a grip of a game which the home side had controlled for most of the opening period.
That gave them the platform to pull away in the second half and show some of the quality that saw them land a fourth All-Ireland title last September.
Does this mean they are back to their best?
"Probably for about 20 minutes, I wouldn’t say the whole thing," Dooher said.
"They had a bit of renewed vigour whenever they went out in the second half and just applied themselves a bit better and worked harder.
"And that’s all it took, to apply themselves, work harder and be a bit more accountable for their actions.
"That’s what we expect, we didn’t get it in the first half, and they more or less held their hands up. We knew they weren’t working had enough."