Kingdom opener for Derry’s top flight return

By Michael McMullan

MICKEY Harte’s tenure as Derry manager is about to get real and well he knows it.

With the McKenna Cup tucked away and four games to assess his roster, Harte’s side take on Kerry in Tralee on Saturday evening (5pm).

It will be Derry’s first taste of Division One since 2015 with visits to Tuam and Castlebar to come later in the campaign.

Harte has said any timescale for a return of the Glen players is down to them, but Derry fans are already delighted that Emmett Bradley committed to an inter-county return.

Derry may also have to plan without Eoin McEvoy this weekend after he aggravated an injury during the first half of Saturday’s win over Donegal.

“He didn’t train for the first three or four weeks we were there. He is carrying an injury that has been with him for a while,” Harte said, hoping seven days of recovery is enough for McEvoy to see some action on Saturday.

During the McKenna Cup Steelstown duo Diarmuid Baker and Donncha Gilmore have played every minute.

The pace of Cormac Murphy has helped their attack options with Declan Cassidy getting more time after being part of their back-to-back Ulster winning squad.

“We have three or four more players that we could be put into an intense kind of game in Division One in the National Football League and you would know they could do themselves proud,” Harte added.

“When we hit Division One and hit Tralee it is a different story so it is going to ask a lot more of us.”

Kerry manager Jack O’Connor said new captain Paudie Clifford, and his brother David, won’t be part of this weekend’s opener.

Sean O’Shea, Dylan and Conor Geaney have been central to their McGrath Cup campaign that concluded with a penalty shootout defeat at the hands of Cork in Saturday’s final.

With both David Moran and Jack Barry gone and with Stefan Okunbor on his way back, midfield will be an area of focus for the Kingdom.

Barry Dan O’Sullivan and promising newcomer Seán O’Brien are also vying for a spot alongside Diarmuid O’Connor.

Donegal come to Celtic Park in April when the Oakleafers put their Ulster title on the line.

For now, it’s about making sure Derry make the strides necessary to become a seasoned Division One county again.

“I have always admired them in the last few years, the progress they have made, the strides they have made to become a top four team,” Harte said of Derry.

“You definitely, looking in, see there is real potential in that team. It is true, when you get to work with boys, toe to toe, night by night; you begin to appreciate how good some of them are.

“Looking from a distance, you know they are decent players but you don’t know how good they are.

“When you are in working closer with them you get another insight to what they are capable of.”

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