IF Derry are to complete a historic three-in-a-row of Ulster titles for the first time ever, then they are going to have to do it the hard way. The Championship draw hasn’t looked kindly on the Oak Leaf County as they are undoubtedly on the tougher side of the draw.
Mickey Harte faces his old nemesis Jim McGuinness as Derry host Donegal in the opening round of the Ulster Championship, while either Cavan, Monaghan or Tyrone await the winners in the semi-final.
Derry’s midfield maestro Brendan Rogers, nominated for Footballer of the Year after his display in the red and white this season, is excited by the prospect of coming up against the best the province has to offer.
“When you win an Ulster Championship, it’s a very precious thing and it’s a very precious championship but ultimately when you’re beating all the top teams you can say to yourself that we’re definitely the best team,” said the Slaughtneil dual star.
“So be it. If we have to play all those teams then that’s just the way that it is, we’ll deal with it. We’re going to have top opposition in Division One and in the Championship so we must prepare for that.
“That’s your incentive for the year. You get to play the big teams on the big days and hopefully there’ll be a massive crowd in Celtic Park against Donegal and the two teams get to go at it and who knows we might get a return to Tyrone,” laughed Rogers.
Before the white heat of Championship battle ascends onto Celtic Park, Derry have a full National League campaign at the top tier to look forward to.
For the first time since 2015, when they were relegated alongside a Mickey Harte managed Tyrone, Derry will compete at the top level, which will be a new experience for Rogers and the majority of the team.
“Growing up everybody always gravitates towards the Division One teams, and I’ve been fortunate enough to know what it’s like in Division Four as well, and it’s not as attractive because there’s no crowds and things like that.
“It doesn't really get the appreciation that it deserves in that it is still tough to play in those divisions, so I guess I can see it from both sides.
“It should be exciting to get playing the top teams because, ultimately, you only want to be playing the best and playing at the top level and that’s where you want to be.
“If you win a National League title, it’s another day out in Croke Park, it’s another opportunity to get silverware and it’s something not to be snuffed at when it comes to a Division One National League title.
“We’re definitely looking forward to it, it’ll be great and especially just because of the nature of getting bigger crowds every week as well and that’s the excitement of it and what that’ll do for Derry fans, it’ll do a lot of people the world of good in Derry.”