Derry boss Rory Gallagher expecting 'hungry' Tyrone at Owenbeg
Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section B, round 3: Derry v Tyrone (Owenbeg, 7.30pm)
SURVIVAL of the fittest is Derry boss Rory Gallagher's message to his players – even if that doesn't necessarily apply against arch-rivals Tyrone tonight.
The hosts won't definitely need to win to progress, pointed out the canny Fermanagh man, indeed they might even get to the semi-finals with a narrow defeat, depending on results elsewhere.
However, Gallagher is well aware that tonight's tie will be battle against a Red Hands outfit out to redeem themselves and also wreak some measure of revenge for the humiliating hammering Derry inflicted on them last April.
The Oak Leafers thrashed Tyrone by 11 points, 1-18 to 0-10 in their Healy Park home in the Ulster SFC quarter-final, ending the Red Hands' hold on the Anglo-Celt Cup en route to Derry lifting it themselves for the first time since 1998.
Tyrone beat Fermanagh by seven points last Wednesday, before Derry downed the Ernemen by four in Ederney on Sunday, and Gallagher expects a stern test from Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher's players:
"Tyrone will definitely be hurting but by all accounts they have an awful lot of work done. They probably felt there was a softening of the belly and clearly they were not happy with how it [last season's championship] went. But it is not easy after being All Ireland champions so I would expect to have a very hungry team coming to Owenbeg on Wednesday night."
Derry will only be assured of progess if they beat Tyrone for the first time in this competition since the 2011 Final, but Gallagher says it's not a 'must-win' game:
"Last year we got through [to the semi-finals] on three points so I'd say a draw would go a long way to putting you through, you just wouldn't know. We are looking forward to the game. Between ourselves and Tyrone, we'd feel we are two of the heavyweights within Ulster so it should be a great challenge."
Tyrone fielded six senior debutants against Fermanagh and used eight substitutes, whereas Derry had no one who hadn't appeared before and only sent on three replacements.
Gallagher outlined his approach, saying: "Listen, we don't keep a big squad, we played 18 players there. We'll see where Shea [Downey] is at for coming back in the next day. We want to get games into our main players, to be honest. We have a small squad and the idea is 'survival of the fittest' – if you're doing well, you get playing."
Having said that, and after lining out with 11 of their All-Ireland SFC semi-final starting line-up, Gallagher still foresees newer faces breaking through this year:
"In Eoin [McEvoy], in Lachlan [Murray], in Matthew [Downey], and Mark Doherty we have four guys who won an All-Ireland Minor three years [ago] and we would see an awful lot of future around them.
"There's the addition of Paudie 'Tad' (Cassidy) back in. We want to give the likes of Paul Cassidy more exposure, 'Clucky' [Conor McCluskey], they're not that long in the team – we want to give them as many games as we can, we'll treat the McKenna Cup like that.
"We're into pre-season…we're happy enough with the overall fitness of the squad, bar Shea and Matthew [Downey], a couple of wee niggles, and Paul McNeill, everybody else is good, they'll all be back in the next couple of days. Just good to get a game."
Gallagher acknowledged he'd like a minimum of one more match in the McKenna Cup: "In our heads, we would love three games, at least. It's different this year, we have the Slaughtneil contingent that wee bit earlier, although Glen are now into the All-Ireland Club Final…
"We'd love to get another game but we're just looking forward to the battle with Tyrone now… I am really looking forward to it. Now it's up to boys to recover and prepare and see if we are up for the battle."