Derry strong visitors appear to have too much quality for Harte's Louth

Red and black magic: Derry's Shane McGuigan fires over another point against Louth during the Division Three meeting at Celtic Park in 2020. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Red and black magic: Derry's Shane McGuigan fires over another point against Louth during the Division Three meeting at Celtic Park in 2020. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

Allianz Football League Division Two: Louth v Derry (DEFY Pairc Mhuire, Ardee, 2pm Sunday)

THE venue may be in Leinster, the visitors from Derry, but at some stage on the sidelines Ballygawley blood will surely boil.

Derry boss Rory Gallagher is the son of a Kavanagh mother, while his Louth counterpart Mickey Harte was the man at the centre of the formation of Errigal Ciaran, and managed Gallagher’s uncle Eamonn.

Another member of the Derry management set-up, Ciaran Meenagh, also played under Harte, during his long stint in charge of Tyrone, and there’s no doubt that Mickey and his assistant Gavin ‘Horse’ Devlin would delight in putting one over the Oak Leafers.

Yet the ‘wee county’ are up against one of the big dogs of this division. With Dublin, Kildare, Cork, and Meath, it’s as intense as the second tier has been for some time.

The Dubs are the best team in this section, but Derry don’t look far behind them. This is not a game in which they can afford to slip up.

Derry hit the ground running without even hitting top form, swatting Limerick aside by quadruple scores, 0-16 to 0-4.

The Oak Leafers are showing that last season certainly wasn’t ‘a flash in the pan’. Quite the opposite: they are cooking with gas, excellent in defence, bursting with options at midfield, and looking increasingly lively in attack.

Lachlan Murray’s form has forced him ahead of Niall Loughlin, while Ben McCarron is another option to come in to a forward line led by the excellent Shane McGuigan, with creativity and cutting edge also coming from Ethan Doherty and Benny Heron.

The young talent continues to come through, and there’s enough experience, notably the Slaughtneil trio of Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rogers, and McGuigan, to lead Derry back into the top flight.

Dublin, Kildare, and Meath will have strong ambitions in that direction too, of course, although Derry will have the advantage of hosting both the Dubs and the Royals.

Louth are not the Leinster team likely to pose Derry serious problems. They have earned promotion in consecutive seasons, and are usually bobbing between Divisions Two and Three, but a challenge for the top flight is beyond them at this stage.

Harte’s men suffered their first League loss in six games when they went down to the narrowest of defeats, 0-13 to 0-12, away to division regulars Clare last weekend. Far from a bad result, but the Banner county were destroyed by Derry in Croke Park last summer.

Louth had recovered from a poor beginning to Division Three last year by winning five games in a row to top the table, before beating Limerick in the divisional final.

Harte has obviously made them better organised and disciplined, but they have already suffered a blow with the news that midfielder Ciaran Byrne seems set to be out for the season due to a suspected cruciate ligament injury sustained in Ennis.

Given that Derry have Allstar Conor Glass, the versatile Rogers and Paul Cassidy, Emmett Bradley and Padraig ‘Tad’ Cassidy as options around centre-field, that is a real setback for Louth.

The closest encounter between these counties over the past decade was the most recent, in 2020 in Division Three, and even then Derry eventually won by four points.

Otherwise, apart from a draw in 2012, Derry have comfortably seen off Louth, by an average winning margin of more than seven points over six other matches. Expect a similar outcome tomorrow.

Away games tend to be tougher in the League but it’s not too long a journey for Derry. It does look far too much of a stretch for Louth to knock them off the top of this table though.