GAA Football

Niall Keenan: Derry thinking about staying up as well as going up

Derry defender Niall Keenan in attacking mode. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

DERRY defender Niall Keenan hailed the victory over Tipperary as “absolutely vital” but admitted that relegation remains as much on their minds as promotion.

Taking just a point from their first two Division Three matches, against Leitrim and Down, meant the visit of Tipp was a ‘must-win' game for the Oak Leafers, as the Castledawson clubman acknowledged:

“It was a huge game for us. We thought we maybe could have got two wins in the first two games, we were obviously pushing for that, but it didn't go our way.

“This was absolutely vital for us, putting us up nearer the top of the table, now level with Tipperary on points.

“We're competing back near the top, which is what we need either to get promoted or stay up in this league, it's very competitive.”

Failure to secure a second consecutive promotion would leave Derry competing in the Tier Two Championship, unless they were to reach the Ulster SFC Final, which would require beating Armagh and then Donegal or Tyrone.

Keenan was philosophical about that prospect, saying: “Obviously that's in the back of our minds. First things first we were aiming for promotion – but after the first couple of games not going too well you need to make sure you get a few wins under belt so you don't end up on the other side of the league table.

“We'll take it as it comes; if we have to play Tier Two this year, we have to, and we'll build on that and push again next year.”

Derry made hard work of seeing off Tipperary, especially after the Munster men had two players red-carded midway through the second half, but Keenan argued those exceptional circumstances were difficult for the hosts too:

“You can almost find yourself going too defensive at times, nearly having everyone starting to drop back and then you have no kind of formation going forward, you lose your shape, which kind of happened us. We got a bit sloppy coming out of defence, we gave away a few frees, but overall we were reasonably strong at the back, with having the couple [of men] extra.”

Much more impressive was Derry's first half display, turning around ahead by four points to three despite playing into a very strong wind: “The pitch was a wee bit heavy but I thought we dug it out in the first half, put in a good performance which was enough to carry us through.

“We really should have pushed on there in the end but luckily we had enough in the tank that we were able to hold out when they went down to 13 men.”

Keenan was glad that the game went ahead, despite expectations it would be called off, which left the players in limbo on Sunday morning:

“It can be tough on your preparation. I saw a few videos of the [U20] game [at Celtic Park on Saturday] and there were puddles all over the field.

“You kinda have it in the back of your head that it might be off but you have to push that aside. We were sitting about the hotel waiting for the news and it got to the stage we were saying ‘Game's on, that's what we're preparing for'. It's nothing you can control, you just have to prepare as best you can.

“The wind was strong now but I've played in much worse conditions that that. The pitch was a wee bit heavy but I shouldn't have thought it was really under question. They put a bit of sand on it. It's tough on the legs playing on that, but it's definitely not worth calling the game off, it was good to get playing.”

There's definitely no League game this coming weekend but Keenan and Derry are already looking forward to the forthcoming matches against Louth then Cork:

“This division is very competitive, teams beat different teams all over the show, you don't know what kind of game you're going to be coming up against. They'll obviously be two very tough games.

“It would be a huge win against Cork if we could get that, away, we'll really be pushing for that, but Louth coming here will not be easy at all. If we can get something out of those two games we'll be flying then”.

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