Allianz Hurling League Division 2A: Derry v Kerry (Saturday, Celtic Park, 2pm)
AFTER years of battling for the right to hurl in Division 2A, Derry will have a shadow of the team that gained their much sought after promotion on board on Saturday afternoon when Kerry visit Celtic Park.
It’s Derry’s first game at this level since a 1-18 to 0-16 defeat at the hands of the Kildare in Newbridge in 2016, a season that saw the Oak Leafers fail to win a game as they plummeted to relegation.
From that day, Meehaul McGrath, Paul Cleary and Sean Francis Quinn are the three survivors in new manager Johnny McGarvey’s squad.
Defender Niall Farren played earlier in the 2016 campaign and the other link is former attacker Gareth O’Kane joins Conor Murray and Oisin Quinn in McGarvey’s management team.
After three seasons of near misses at the hands of Down and Wicklow, Derry saw off Sligo in last year’s promotion final.
Since then, it has all been change. Managerial duo Dominic McKinley and Cormac Donnelly stepped down on the eve of the new season.
On top of that, a staggering 14 of the 26 players listed for the decider in Ederney have stepped away for a variety of reasons.
Kevin Lynch’s duo Odhran McKeever and Conor Kelly made the trip to Australia where they have transferred to the Cormac McAnallen’s club in Sydney.
Darragh McCloskey, Ciaran Hendry and Paddy Kelly are also gone from their defensive options.
McGarvey’s rebuilding progress will have to make ground without Gerald Bradley, Deaglan Foley and Fintan Bradley from their attack.
There has been a return for Sean Francis Quinn and Paul Cleary who will bring experience to the side.
Ballinascreen’s Cormac Gough – a native of Stradbally in Waterford – was the top scorer across the Derry club championship scene last season and has joined clubmates Daire Kelly and Reece McSorley on the county scene. Also back on board is Corey O’Reilly who had a previously spent time ‘Down Under’.
Saturday will be the toughest of openers against a Kingdom side that pushed Antrim all the way in the Joe McDonagh decider last season.
Derry will look to skipper Cormac O’Doherty, Brian Óg McGilligan, Richie and John Mullan in the central zone to add to the experience of McGrath and vice-captain Mark Craig in defence.
The Oak Leafers campaign includes battles with the last two Christy Ring champions – Offaly and Kildare.
Kerry lost both Munster league games at the hands of Cork and Limerick, but the match practice will have them primed and tipped to get the National League off to a winning start.