THE split season could help unlock Derry’s potential as the county’s new management team builds towards the start of the 2021 campaign.
That is the hope of Cormac Donnelly who, along with Dominic ‘Woody’ McKinley, took over the Oak Leaf reins from Laois native John McEvoy before Christmas.
McKinley brings plenty of experience to the table after years’ involvement with Antrim alongside Terence McNaughton, while former full-back Donnelly was a central pillar of their Saffron side for a time.
Donnelly later worked alongside the pair with Antrim, and is now dipping his toes into the inter-county arena again – with the Ballycastle man hoping the split season can boost Derry’s prospects as they bid for promotion from Division 2B, having fallen at the final hurdle against Down back in October, before launching into the Christy Ring Cup.
“When ‘Woody’ and I chatted, we felt that with the split season there was an opportunity there to get the majority of the best players out for Derry,” said Donnelly, who will remain with Carrickmore after helping them to the Tyrone title last year.
“The county board is very ambitious, they want to see Derry hurling progress even further – you just have to look at the training facilities in Owenbeg, it’s second to none.
“For us as a management team, we want to try and create an environment where the players want to be there and where they take ownership of the thing themselves and we’re just there to facilitate it and get Derry climbing the ladder again. That’s the challenge we have in front of us now.
“We’re working hard to get the best players who are available. Hopefully with the split season the lads will see an opportunity to go at it for six months - it’ll give boys an opportunity just to concentrate on Derry.”
Former Oak Leaf captains Liam Hinphey and Conor Murray have joined the management team as selectors, while Terry Gray (logistics manager), Eoin McNicholl (strength and conditioning coach) and Ben McGuckin (video analyst) remain on board from the previous regime.
Hinphey and Murray will bring plenty of knowledge of the scene in Derry, while Donnelly is also well aware of the talent at their disposal after a previous stint with county and Ulster kingpins Slaughtneil.
He trained the Emmett’s for three years under fellow Ballycastle man Michael McShane, although Donnelly is realistic about the prospects of any of Slaughtneil’s dual stars lining out for the hurlers any time soon.
“Listen, everybody knows they’re well established footballers. The days of doing both – at county level - are over. Every manager would want to have Brendan Rogers, Paul McNeill, Shane McGuigan, all those boys, but you just couldn’t do it.
“The football wouldn’t be getting the best out of them and we wouldn’t be getting the best out of them so unfortunately that won’t work out.
“There’s talented players all around the county and that experience with Slaughtneil maybe gave me the wee heads up, knowing what you were coming in to work with.
“But that was two or three years ago now and perhaps there’s younger lads coming up through who we haven’t seen before who are eager and keen to push on as senior players.”
A provisional panel has already been drawn up, although hopes of getting those players together suffered a blow when the GAA’s plans for a resumption of county training from January 15 were pushed back until at least the end of the month.
For a new management team, Donnelly admits it is “not ideal”.
“It’s frustrating – being in that team environment is hard to beat. The League’s going to be tough, it’ll be upon us sharp, and the way things are working we don’t know what sort of time we’ll have on the field to prepare.
“But we just have to try and work around it as best we can and come to some sort of solution to get through to them, whether that’s Zoom calls or lads doing sessions on their own.
“You’d love to be hands on and be in there working with them but every county team’s in the same position at the minute and until things change we just have to sit tight and trust that the players are doing the work on their own.
“We were itching to get going there on the 15th but we’ll just have to work around it until such times as we’re allowed back.”