Things are falling into place - but it's on us to improve: Derry boss Rory Gallagher
Dr McKenna Cup semi-final: Donegal v Derry (tonight, Ballybofey, 7.45pm)
RORY Gallagher feels things are falling into place in Derry and believes the county are finally getting their best players out on the field.
That said, Gallagher will have a dozen or more absentees for tonight’s Dr McKenna Cup semi-final against Donegal through a combination of club and college commitments, injuries and players needing more recovery time from the rigours of the Monaghan and Fermanagh group games.
Now in his third year as Derry senior football boss, Gallagher feels the landscape is looking much brighter.
“On a personal level I absolutely love it, I love working with the management team and the county board,” said the Fermanagh native.
“Things have fallen well for us in terms of the split season suits, I think things have fallen well with the age profile of our team.
“We got a big boost from the  All-Ireland minor winning team. We’re just really enjoying it. We feel we’ve got all the best players we want available to us which maybe just didn’t happen for Derry over the years for whatever reason. We want to establish ourselves as a better team but that’s up to us to improve.”
Gallagher has already indicated he’s not a fan of the McKenna Cup semi-finals being played on a Tuesday night but is quick to add the games to date have been hugely beneficial.
All-Ireland minor winning forwards Matthew Downey and Lachlan Murray played full games against Monaghan and Derry and have performed well, but it’s unlikely the pair will play the entirety against Donegal, who are themselves shorn of around 12 players who are involved in Sigerson for Letterkenny IT and DCU.
“The likes of Matthew and Lachlan have now played two 70-minute games, over 70 minutes actually,” Gallagher said.
“They’ve never played 70 minutes before and obviously the intensity of it as well.”
Downey was put on free-taking duties in Derry’s four-point win over Fermanagh in Roslea last Saturday and was very assured, while Murray has got on the scoresheet in both games.
Enda Downey, Declan Cassidy, Paudie Cassidy and Anton Tohill are all in line for starts tonight while the Slaughtneil dual players and Steelstown duo Neil Forester and Ben McCarron are still unavailable.
Tohill, who returned home last summer after a three-year stint in Aussies Rules, has featured as a late substitute in both the Monaghan and Fermanagh games.
But Gallagher has been sufficiently impressed with the Swatragh man’s ability – “particularly his movement inside” - to give him a start in tonight's semi-final.
Conor Glass has fully recovered from a tight hamstring but will be held back for Derry’s NFL Division Two opener with Down at Owenbeg in 11 days’ time.
“The big prize for us at this stage is the first two rounds of the League [against Down and Offaly] and we want to have all our players fit,” said Gallagher.
With the National League fast approaching, it’s fair to say the McKenna Cup has lost a bit of its spark ahead of tonight’s semi-finals as managers hone in on their options and hold some players back.
“It would be nice to play the semi-finals this weekend,” said Gallagher, “and play the final in the break in the League, but it is what it is. We’re just glad of the games and we’re happy to have the McKenna Cup back.”
On the Tuesday night scheduling, he added: “Listen, it just means everybody has to reschedule their work-life to meet up that bit earlier for a pre-match meal and stuff like that.”
With a raft of players missing, Bonner could give more minutes to Michael Murphy and Michael Langan both of whom came off the bench in Donegal's two-point win over Antrim in Portglenone last Saturday.