Derry boss Gallagher helping McGuigan follow in Murphy and McBrearty's footsteps
FOR years Shane McGuigan watched on as Donegal duo Michael Murphy and Paddy McBrearty led the way, but now the Derry danger-man is right up there with them – thanks to a little help from manager Rory Gallagher.
A feared forward in his own inter-county days, Fermanagh native Gallagher helped bring the best from Murphy and McBrearty when he was Jim McGuinness’s assistant, before eventually succeeding the Glenties man as Tir Chonaill boss.
On Sunday Gallagher takes his Derry side to Ballybofey for a mouth-watering Ulster Championship quarter-final clash between the north-west rivals, and McGuigan’s form is among the reasons some punters fancy an upset.
The Slaughtneil sharpshooter scored 2-33 across National League victories over Longford, Fermanagh, Cavan, Limerick and Offaly, providing the cutting edge for an improving Oak Leaf outfit.
And, despite Gallagher’s past reputation for setting up teams defensively, McGuigan insists he has played a key role in his increased threat.
“Rory’s managed the likes of Murphy and McBrearty, household names across the country,” said the 23-year-old.
“Yes, he wants to be the best defensive team in the country. But having seen more of him this year offensively, he knows defence is only 50 per cent of the game, he’s smart enough to know the balance between the two.
“He’s on my case still about being more cute with my runs, how to manipulate defenders and push them into areas where they don’t want to go. Obviously the scoring accuracy, he showed me a statistic last year of what my accuracy was and it wasn’t good, so he demanded I put a lot more emphasis on the skills of scoring.
“He put that pressure on me and it’s probably the first time I’ve been challenged in that regard. I like getting that push. He’s probably done the same with Murphy and McBrearty, so I would be a fool not to listen to him.”
One aspect of his game that McGuigan has worked hard on is improving his right side, the benefits of which were clear to be seen as Derry easily sealed promotion to Division Two.
“Rory always talked about not necessarily having both feet, but about being able to attack off both sides. He didn’t put a real emphasis on my right foot, it was more down to myself and Gavin Devlin [at Slaughtneil].
“I would always be going on to my left side and he made sure I had to keep defenders honest, even if that was going onto my right then checking back onto my left, or making runs behind, not always just showing for the ball.”
Finding opportunities to showcase those skills will be a tougher assignment on Sunday.
Swatting aside Division Three opposition is one thing, but Donegal represent a major step up as Derry target a first Ulster Championship win since defeating Down six long summers ago.
In order to do so, they will have to back up all the early season hype – and McGuigan insists the time is coming for this group, backboned by so many of his successful Slaughtneil side, to finally lay down a marker at provincial level.
“Yeah, definitely look, we have been saying among the lads.
“It’s 2015 since the last time Derry has won an Ulster Championship match and when you hear it like that there, it doesn’t sound good. I do think there will come a time when there has to be a statement made by this team.
“It might not be this year, but we will be giving it our all. Obviously the knockout championship format this year puts that added bit of pressure on the line.
“I know Rory has put a big emphasis on the togetherness of the squad and being in each other’s company more and everyone has made a real effort to be mixing with each other, even outside of the training camps.
“I don’t think anybody is getting too hyped up with all the excitement around the county. I know I’m not because there’s still a long way to go and this is a new team that’s building towards something.”