Derry star Brendan Rogers ready for tough Clare challenge in All-Ireland quarter-final
UNEXPECTED - but not surprising. Those adjectives could apply equally to Derry's status as Ulster Senior Football Champions and to the presence of Clare as their opponents in the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals, according to Brendan Rogers.
The Oak Leaf full-back was deservedly voted PwC GAA/GPA 'Footballer of the Month' for May after his performances in the provincial campaign, notably his stunning display in the decider against Donegal when he scored three points from play.
The Slaughtneil dual star enjoyed the euphoria of a first Anglo-Celt triumph in 24 years for his county, but back down to earth he insists that the Banner won't be beaten easily when the teams meet for the second time this year.
Derry won by nine points down in Ennis in round four of Division Two, 2-13 to 0-10, but Rogers insisted Colm Collins's side are better than that result might suggest:
"I know some people would have their opinions that some teams are lesser than others, that there's more in-form teams, but we're aware of the challenge of Clare.
"We played them in the National League this year and it wasn't a handy game, it was very tight, even though the scoreline maybe didn't reflect that at the end - I guess we got a couple of scores to kind of add on to it, which obviously changes the look of it."
Rogers was impressed by how Clare came through their round two qualifier at the weekend, scoring heavily late on to edge out beaten Connacht finalists Roscommon:
"Clare are obviously a very well-coached team. Roscommon had a purple patch, had a good foot in the game, but given how Clare are coached they managed to claw their way back into the game and win it.
"So to say they're not a good team would be inaccurate. Obviously, we're not going to take them lightly because they obviously have the qualities to be there, and they've earned the right to be there.
"We'll obviously treat them they way we would with any other team, and try to put our best foot forward, but focus on ourselves first and foremost."
While Clare have been in Division Two for the past six seasons, Derry were down in Division Four as recently as 2019, so their revival has been rapid:
"Yes, I suppose it was very much a reality check on how Derry were in terms of the preparation and performance, at any level really," said Rogers.
"When Rory [Gallagher] came in, the way things are structured and the demands that he had and the organisation that he had to get the best players out of Derry, we were confident in ourselves that we would get out of Division Three.
"Obviously no sport is as plain sailing as that but we always knew in ourselves that we could be a top tier team. But the improvement's obviously another thing."
Derry were unlucky not to earn promotion back to the top flight earlier his year, and then saw off reigning Ulster and All-Ireland Champions Tyrone, last year's provincial finalists Monaghan, and the dominant force within Ulster of the past decade, Donegal.
That was a remarkable run of victories, but Rogers insists Derry haven't shocked themselves with their successes so far:
"So to say we're surprised that we're in Division Two and trying to compete with the top teams? Not really, but who knew it would have happened so fast, I guess, and to have an Ulster title within that time period.
"It was something probably we didn't expect - but nothing we didn't think we couldn't get at some stage over the next number of years. But, look, we're glad to be in this position.
"Obviously it's new territory for us but it's nothing I think we can't deal with as a team given the good unit that we have."
All-Ireland SFC quarter-final draw
Saturday, June 25
Derry v Clare (3.45pm)
Dublin v Cork (6pm)
Sunday, June 26
Galway v Armagh (1.45pm)
Kerry v Mayo (4pm)
Kerry/Mayo v Dublin/Cork
Galway/Armagh v Derry/Clare
Ties to be played July 9 and July 10