Both teams will say it’s a tough draw: McFlynn

Paul McFlynn played in Derry’s 1998 winning team against Donegal and is part of the current management team. He spoke to Michael McMullan

WHEN Paul McFlynn hoovered up a late Derry kick-out in the 1998 Ulster final, Donegal had one hand on the Anglo Celt Cup.

Within seconds, Joe Brolly was blowing kisses, basking in his winning goal.

It would be 24 years before Derry were champions again. In that time, Donegal won nine of the championship meetings between the sides. In the other, in 2008, Paddy Bradley hit 10 points in a Derry win.

As the scramble for tickets continues, it’s a contrast to another meeting of the counties in 2002. It clashed with Ireland’s World Cup defeat to Spain.

Barely 4,000 fans chose a dank Clones on that same afternoon. A hand injury picked up against Antrim didn’t recover enough and McFlynn was left to watch among a paltry attendance.

“There was a bit of a distraction around that and there was a poor enough crowd,” McFlynn said.

“I suppose Derry is in a different place now. Back in 1998, we won Ulster and were in the final in 2000.”

The 1993 All-Ireland was still fresh in the mind and there was an expectation Derry would be competing.

“Now, with this current team, we’ve done back-to-back Ulsters and won a National League title and been in two All-Ireland semi-finals in a row,” McFlynn said about the buzz in the county.

When the National League title was won after a dramatic penalty shootout, the players’ celebrations were muted. There wasn’t the same euphoria victory over the best team in the country tends to bring.

It’s not something that came from the management, as in how to celebrate if they won. McFlynn surmises it may have been a vibe generated within the playing group themselves. It was still nice to win.

“There was been a lot of talk in the media about how much effort Derry were putting into the league,” he said.

Derry had a fuller hand versus injuries elsewhere and there was the scramble to get the eight points to secure safety. And you have Mickey Harte’s mantra of striving to win every piece of silver.

McFlynn felt the result was important for the squad after facing down the Dubs and having twice had a grip on the game before needing penalties to win it.

“I think just from a confidence perspective, it’s good for them,” he said. “To come out of there having lost it wouldn’t have been the end of the world, certainly by no stretch of the imagination.

“We were in a league final that was bonus territory in terms of getting an extra game, as well in preparation for the championship.

“I think to come away when you’re there in the heat of the battle, and for those lads, it’s a national title. So it was important for them as players, and I think it gives them a good bit of confidence now moving forward.”

Aside from the usual knocks a 13 games in 15-week schedule will offer, Derry are hoping to be picking from a full deck later this week.

Training will tell more about the hand injury Gareth McKinless sustained in the league final.

“He’s been training away and we’re just sweating on his fitness at the minute but we’re hoping, fingers crossed, that he’ll be there.”

Emmett Bradley will have had the benefit of three weeks of training and Niall Loughlin will be good to go.

The Greenlough man’s in and out of the team pattern has been a load management plan after a winning Sigerson campaign with Ulster University on top of his Derry exploits.

The management team feed off any recommendations coming from the conditioning and medical side of things.

“That’s the advice that Mickey and Gavin (Devlin) and the rest of us take, and go with it. So I think that’s healthy,” said McFlynn, himself having a professional background in PE.

“You’ll be around set-ups and you’ll hear stories where they’re saying, we’ll just push you on and push the player on to play maybe against that medical advice.

“When you bring those people in who are the experts, and you listen to them, they know what they’re talking about.”

Derry and Donegal had four games in a 17-day window to win the McKenna Cup. If the winners of Saturday’s showdown get to an Ulster final, it will be three games inside 22 days.

While Derry will undoubtedly wear the favourites’ tag on Saturday, McFlynn frames it as a challenge for both teams.

This week is about getting the plans in place to ensure Derry can put their best foot forward.

“When the draw was made, it’s a tough draw, both teams will say it’s a tough draw, but it’s a challenge for both,” McFlynn said.

“We’re classing them (Donegal) now, at this moment in time, as a Division One team. So you have two Division One teams going at it, coming off the back of successful league campaigns.

“It’s a big game. Both teams will be preparing, leaving no stone unturned, in terms of physical and mental preparation.

“From our perspective, we’re just hoping that on the day that the boys are able to put on a performance that does themselves justice.”

With games all rolling into one, teams can’t “compartmentalise” their season in terms of breaking up the various competitions like the days of old.

Derry and Donegal will have had the same thought process. The league was there to be grabbed but April 20 would’ve been lingering in the back of the mind.

The other factor Derry hope to tap into his Saturday is the home advantage from both playing and training in Celtic Park.

There have been two games with Dublin and a visit of Tyrone in front of packed houses. They also banked the atmosphere from a tough battle with Kerry in Tralee.

“Championship obviously is a wee bit different because we’ve got more of an edge to it,” McFlynn said before admitting that playing at home is different.

The pitch size, how the wind blows off Lough Foyle and knowing where the scoring range is.

“We’ve got to try and use that to our advantage,” he added. “When you played at home, you felt more comfortable. So, we’re hoping that will be an advantage.”


LOOKING AHEAD…Derry selector Paul McFlynn says his side needs to bring a performance to Celtic Park that will do them justice


VITAL…Paul McFlynn wins an important breaking ball ahead of John Duffy in the 1998 UIster final win over Donegal

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