By Michael McMullan
BIDDING for the county’s All-Ireland title will definitely be long-term thoughts when Derry return to training insists Ulster final goalscorer Brendan Rogers.
Winning the McKenna Cup was the first target. Tick. Next, it was righting the wrongs of their 2022 promotion failure. Tick. Then it moved on to retaining their Ulster title. Tick.
“Tuesday probably,” Rogers firmly said of when they’d get back to work ahead of their rematch with Monaghan at Celtic Park in the first game of the new-look championship.
Sunday night was to be enjoyed. Maybe a bit of Monday before putting a lid on the celebrations as they bid to take their game to the next level.
Do they feel they didn’t do themselves justice in Croke Park last year? It’s not that. There is no “stigma” of Croke Park. It’s more about rubbing shoulders with Gaelic football’s big boys.
“You want to prove yourselves in the latter stages against the big teams and they are always in Croke Park,” Rogers said of the ambitions within the group.
“That’s ultimately where we want to be, in All-Ireland semi-finals and in finals…that’s the aim. (We’re) making no bones about it.
“We have our goals,” Rogers added. “We can’t set ourselves on anything else but an All-Ireland, so that’s the focus, that is the aim.”
Rogers laughs when asked how far down the pecking order he was when the five penalty takers were selected on Sunday. He was just out and no more.
An attacking assassin in hurling, he was happy to let the others at it. He has moulded his footballing offering from a bombing full-back to an all-action midfielder.
“I have a bit to go before I’d be taking a penalty,” he says through the trademark smile. The Derry players take a lot of penalties, ranging from “mucking about” to setting semi-pressurised scenarios.
“You are obviously not going to get 30,000 people shouting at you,” he said. “A lot of players hit penalties for their clubs so it is no coincidence they get hitting them. I would be earmarked as a defender when it comes to those sorts of things.”
Rogers was over the moon for goalkeeper Odhrán Lynch getting the plaudits after a “lot of flak” that comes with his role as an overlapping player.
With Derry flooding their attack, Lynch is one of the early avenues of attack that also saw him kick points against Fermanagh and Monaghan.
“He showed what he is about; the character that he is and he doesn’t let anything faze him,” Rogers said.
“He really stepped up when we needed him in the penalties and it is a very lonely place, it’s not easy for any goalkeeper.
“To pull off three saves and two of them we absolutely phenomenal. Full credit to him, it was needed.”
There were many important phases of play in a final that ebbed and flowed for long periods after Armagh reeled Derry back from Rogers’ ninth minute goal.
Another came right at the end when Padraig Cassidy’s loose pass was cut out by Jarly Óg Burns. Rogers took one for the team by wrestling the Armagh man to the ground to prevent a goal chance.
It left Derry down to 14 players for the first eight minutes of extra-time.
Rewinding the clock back 12 months, it was Rogers and Glass who carried the fight to Donegal in extra-time. Now the landscape had changed. It was advantage Armagh.
“There was a bit of frustration with not applying ourselves the way we wanted to,” Rogers said of the mood in the Derry dressing room as they regrouped after normal time.
“It was funny when you get a minute to settle in a game that you get a bit more energy, albeit Armagh came out and for the first score. We were a point down and I thought we battled very, well.
“Players with a bit of leadership stepped up, Shane was demanding the ball and things like that. Gareth (McKinless) was demanding things from players defensively.
“Everybody was making sure we were taking responsibility for something and trying to give that one per cent (extra) that we were always looking for.
“That’s the type of character we have in this team. We are together and we want to drive this thing on together.”