Hurling & Camogie

Derry marksman Cormac O'Doherty setting his sights on taking down Meath in Christy Ring Cup final

Cormac O’Doherty will lead the Derry attack when they attempt to win the Christy Ring Cup for the first time in their third final appearance against Meath at Croke Park on Saturday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Cormac O’Doherty will lead the Derry attack when they attempt to win the Christy Ring Cup for the first time in their third final appearance against Meath at Croke Park on Saturday. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Well over an hour before training, Cormac O’Doherty is pucking around on his own at Owenbeg.  

It’s nine days before Derry’s latest bid to take home the Christy Ring Cup and his only company is a plethora of sliotars scattered all across the field. 

There is a method. One by one, from a range of angles and distances, he steps up, takes aim. His wand does the rest.  

This season is no different. O’Doherty is front and centre of Derry’s scoring return. 

But he’s not on his own. Their road to Croke is littered with growing scorelines. There was 2-20 in a draw with Tyrone followed by 4-27 to see off Sligo. More recently they hit 1-30 in Ruislip against London and put 0-31 on Mayo. 

Sandwiched in the middle, a 1-19 tally that wasn’t enough for Saturday’s opponents Meath in a two-point defeat. 

Before that, the highest tally posted in the League was 1-20 in a draw with Down that wasn’t enough to extend the Oak Leafers’ return to Division 2A to more than one season. 

“We have been struggling to get scores and were getting in and around the 20-point mark,” O’Doherty said. 

“Playing in 2A, you realise that 25 points is a minimum.” 

Beyond that, it takes 30 points to be thinking about wins and silverware.  

“It is definitely something management have identified and they have pushed us on,” he said. 

“We are getting to where we want to be and if you want to win big prizes, especially against Meath, you are going to need those scores.” 

John Mullan, Corey O’Reilly and Paul Cleary have shouldered the scoring stakes. Another has been U20 All-Ireland ‘B’ winner James Friel with 1-18 in his first season. 

O’Doherty talks about the week-on-week nature of different players stepping up to the plate. It has energised a group that have grown despite starting the season without 18 of last year’s panel. 

Of that, eight played in last year’s Division 2B final. There was also a change of management with Johnny McGarvey answering the call three weeks before the League. 

“We know Johnny through club hurling over 15 years,” O’Doherty said of the former Lavey boss. 

“We know how enthusiastic he is and how much he wants Derry hurling to do well. He has been a breath of fresh air, him and the whole management team.” 

There is both energy and eagerness. Excitement has replaced the frustration of not meeting the target of avoiding relegation.   

Their Championship run has generated the buzz and looking ahead to a run out in Croke Park is special. 

After losing to Meath, the trip to London was make or break. The victory banished the ghosts of coming out on the wrong side of tight encounters. 

“For us, that was our All-Ireland quarter-final and we knew that,” O’Doherty said of their win in Ruislip.  

“The London win was a massive win for the group to get that a victory that really meant something.”

A win over Mayo clinched a final berth the early season form didn’t look like delivering. 

While he acknowledges the turnover in players and management, O’Doherty doesn’t feel transition as a word to envelope Derry’s season. 

There was always going to be a bedding-in process for those new to inter-county hurling, but ambition was rooted to the group’s very core. 

“Transition teams are building to win something down the line,” he said. 

“We are a group building to win in 10 days’ time. That’s what the focus has been for the last 11 weeks and that’s not going to change.” 

The county’s use of the Celtic Challenge to give minors a wider range of hurling is to be applauded. The U20 All-Ireland ‘B’ title provides fresh blood O’Doherty hopes will drip further into the senior ranks. 

For now, a first Christy Ring Cup would be massive for the group. And for hurling in the county. 

“There are always going to be bumps in the road,” O’Doherty said of their recent past. 

“If it was easy, it would’ve happened a long time ago.  

“To me, we are going in a very good direction. A win for that would be a massive jump and a massive boost. 

“For Derry hurling, coming on the back of the 20s. It would be brilliant, and I just hope we can deliver the performance they did.” 

O’Doherty believes Derry have the tools to finish the job on Saturday. The camp believes but are aware it will hinge on performing to their capabilities. 

Meath will have seen what Derry were about in the League and vice versa. Saturday is about finishing on the right side of a fine line.