Derry seeking silverware at headquarters, but it will not be easy

National Football League

Division Three final

Derry v Offaly

Saturday, Croke Park, 5pm

By Conor Coyle

THE Division Three final will go ahead on Saturday in Croke Park after a timely intervention by Offaly officials, where they agreed to play the game despite a championship outing against Louth eight days later.

It looked like the divisional decider would be scrapped alongside the other finals, with Derry and Offaly named joint champions, but following both sides’ respective semi-final victories over Limerick and Fermanagh it was agreed the match would go ahead.

A Division Three title is not one to be sniffed at for either of these teams and both the Oak Leaf men and the Faithful would welcome the silverware to their cabinets gleefully.

Boasting impressive 100 per cent records in groups which contained provincial champions, Rory Gallagher and John Maughan will both be confident of success in this one.

The feel-good factor appears to have returned to Derry in particular, as the free-flowing football not often associated with their Fermanagh native coach has ignited interest in the county team once again.

The form of full-forward Shane McGuigan has been the standout for Derry thus far, although the Sleacht Néill man found space limited against a compact Limerick defence last weekend in Carrick-on-Shannon.

While he mustered up six points, only one of those came from play, but it mattered not as the supporting cast stepped up.

Benny Heron converted three points from play and a number of others contributed to the scoreboard as well.

Conor Glass’s return and his partnership with Emmett Bradley in midfield has provided the platform through which Derry have launched their attacks this year, and this is where they will aim to dominate the Midlands outfit on Saturday.

Offaly would not have been heavily tipped for success in Division Three South this year as they lined up alongside Munster champions Tipperary, but Mayo man Maughan has managed to drag his team to Division Two with a series of impressive performances.

Indeed to date in their four games, Offaly have won every game by more than a single score, highlighting that their run has been based on steady performances as opposed to any good fortune.

The midlands outfit were fully deserving of their 1-14 to 0-12 win over Fermanagh in O’Connor Park last weekend, although they needed a late Mark Abbott major to seal the victory as the momentum looked to be heading in the Erne men’s direction.

Offaly looked to be home and hosed in that game as they led by seven points at the second water break, before Fermanagh mounted a comeback. Substitute Abbott hit the net with practically his first touch after combining with fellow replacement Niall McNamee to dash Ryan McMenamin’s side’s hopes.

Maughan’s team had looked impressive for the first three quarters of the game, with Anton Sullivan and Cian Farrell in hot scoring form, supplemented by the arrival of the evergreen McNamee who has made telling contributions in several games so far.

Derry seem to have an air of confidence to their game however that has been lacking in recent times, and a move to Division Two will undoubtedly boost that further ahead of their championship opener against the winner of Down and Donegal on July 11.

With such a significant break until their next competitive outing, you could be forgiven for thinking Gallagher’s men might be less inclined to hold anything back than their opponents.

Derry appear to have just a little more quality in their ranks throughout the field, with Chrissy McKaigue and Gareth McKinless marshalling the defence, and the aforementioned midfield partnership of Glass and Bradley giving them a solid base to work from.

While it is likely to be a close encounter, Derry’s forwards and McGuigan in particular may prove the difference if the Oak Leafs can get the ball into his hands often enough.

Verdict: Derry

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