GAA Football

Buzz is back in Derry says Kevin McCloy as Oak Leafers prepare for Croke Park decider against Offaly

Derry manager Rory Gallagher and his team before their victory over reigning Ulster champions Cavan. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

AFTER years in the doldrums, long-suffering Derry supporters are looking forward to watching their county and enjoy talking about the team again, says former Allstar full-back Kevin McCloy.

The Oak Leafers are in action at Croke Park this evening and, with promotion to Division Two already secured, they will take the field at ‘Headquarters’ as arguably the form team in the country.

Conjuring up memories of the great Derry teams of yesteryear, Rory Gallagher’s side amassed 6-50 over three Division North fixtures and ran riots against Longford and Fermanagh before beating reigning Ulster champions Cavan on their home patch.

Seventeen more points last weekend was enough to see off Limerick at the semi-final stage and this evening Derry cross swords with Offaly in the divisional final.

“The club football was always good in Derry,” said Lavey clubman McCloy, a National League winner in 2008

“It was always strong and at least the manager has got the boys fitting into the right places and he’s playing a consistent team. You wouldn’t like to be sent out to mark any one of our six forwards.

“All our players are county standard, they are quality players and most of them would fit into any team. We have players who are really, really strong and the spine of the team is as good as I’ve seen it in a long time.

“Thank God, you’re looking forward to seeing Derry again now and you’re looking forward to talking about them - they are giving the county a bit of a lift.”

McCloy says Rory Gallagher, who took over as manager in 2020, deserves credit for pulling together a talented group of players and getting the best out of them this season.

“Sometimes managers get too much credit when a team is going well and too much criticism when things are going badly, but this time Rory can take the credit because he has done what he needed to do and he is playing a settled team,” he said.

“The team is balanced and every man can play his position and play it with comfort.

“1-15 are quality players – there’s no question about that – and when you see them playing at club level, you’ve no need to ask who they are, they stand out immediately. I like them, I like what Rory is doing.

“Our clubs have a lot of talent, they’ve always had talent but we never seem to pull it together for the county. Maybe now we can back to where we were a few years ago?”

Tomorrow’s decider is Derry’s second Croke Park League final in three seasons (Damian McErlain’s side beat Leitrim in the Division Four decider in 2019) and will be good preparation for the county’s Ulster Championship opener against the winners of the Down/Donegal preliminary round opener on July 11.

It’s a decade since Derry last appeared in an Ulster final and 23 years since the county last won the Anglo-Celt Cup. Could they end that drought this year?

McCloy doesn’t go that far, but says: “Nobody will be taking them for granted.

“Nobody will be saying: ‘Aye, we’ll get Derry and we’ll hammer them’. Donegal are a stiff test and they have quality players but so have Derry. We are progressing and they’ll get stronger and cuter as go and there’s nothing beats a team playing together.

“The consistency in the team is very good and hopefully we’ll keep going in the right direction.”

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