Derry hungry for more progression says Conor Doherty

By Michael McMullan

DESPITE the joy of back-to-back Ulster titles, Derry’s Conor Doherty insists the Oakleafers are still hungry for more.

Doherty made his debut under Damian Barton in the 2017 All-Ireland Qualifier exit at the hands of Mayo in Castlebar.

Doherty captained Derry to the inaugural u-20 Ulster title the following year but was part of the senior squad that dropped to Division Four

After bottoming out, they began the climb to the top under Damian McErlain and later Rory Gallagher.

“The last two or three years have been a whirlwind and we have made serious progression but the one thing is that the appetite is still there to go further,” Doherty said.

“The dangling carrot is still there in front of us in the All-Ireland so we are looking to go a step further along with retaining the Ulster title.”

Speaking to Gaelic Life at the launch of this season’s Dr McKenna Cup. Doherty mentioned Derry’s small panel and almost consistent starting 15 over recent seasons.

Having played in the lower divisions, he acknowledges the “consistent high level” of performance that has elevated Derry into the chasing back for an All-Ireland senior title.

Their All-Ireland semi-final defeat was Doherty’s 69th senior appearance

“The club scene is going well which is another positive,” he added. “As a whole, in the county, we are in a good place at the minute and as long as we keep performing the appetite will stay there for that.”

It has been a period of reflection across the county since the defeat to Kerry. Derry did play the game on their own terms until the Kingdom pulled away in the final quarter.

Doherty hasn’t watched the game in full. Not yet. It would be “too hard to stomach” after missing out on the chance to play in an All-Ireland final.

“We have to hold our hands up and admit we let that one slip,” he said.

“We had really good opportunities to finish it off. The only thing we can do from that is to take it as a learning curve, knowing from now on we need to put those games to bed.

“The big teams, like Kerry, are not going to give up at all, they are going to play right to the 74th minute.”

Derry open their NFL campaign against Kerry in Tralee later this month before welcoming Tyrone to Celtic Park. It’s a tight opening, but this is where the county needs to be operating.

“That is the positive thing about Division One, you are playing this calibre of team week in and week out,” Doherty explained.

“We will learn through the league, there will no doubt be dog fights and we will have to learn to finish those games out. Hopefully it will give us the experience we need to close out championship games in dying moments.

“We are looking forward to Division One and we have the blinkers on, that’s as far as we are looking for now and we’ll take the championship as it comes.”

In the short term, Derry put their McKenna Cup title on the line and Doherty feels it is ideal preparation. The squad depth will allowe them to absorb the absence of their Glen players on All-Ireland duty on Sunday in Newry.

“We showed last year that we were able to compete with boys being away and it gives other boys a chance to stick their hands up,” he said.

“It gives us an opportunity to learning new ways to cope without those players.”

Doherty captained Derry at u-20 level having lost to Kerry in his season with the minors. His younger brothers Mark (2020) and Oisin (2023) have been part of winning All-Ireland minor teams, with Mark also part of the Ulster senior success.

“We relish that there is a great underage structure in Derry and there is great development going into it,” Doherty said, referring to how watching the minors celebrate last year’s All-Ireland gave them an extra appetite ahead of the senior semi-final with Kerry a week later.

“It is going to create healthy competition throughout the squads and that’s what we want, the wheel to keep turning and fresh faces to keep coming and new talent to be discovered,” he said.

After having played senior under four previous Derry managers, Doherty said the current squad are fully embracing the arrival of Mickey Harte and Gavin Devlin.

“Initially, obviously, it was a shock,” he admitted. “Once that shock wears away, you think at what Mickey and ‘Horse’ (Devlin) have achieved and their CV is next to none.

“It is the best we could’ve got out there and the reaction has been so positive around training.

“We are looking at facing all challenges head on with Mickey and Gavin. As a team, we are all behind the management team.”

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