By Michael McMullan
DERRY’S target is simple this week. Avoid defeat at the hands of Clare and they are on the way back to Division One for the first time since 2015.
While a tenth game unbeaten since the 2022 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway will see them through, it’s hard to imagine anything other than Rory Gallagher driving the message home the must-win nature of Sunday.
Derry had the highs of beating Dublin and the manner of the victory, with Brendan Rogers’ last-gasp winner.
With a free weekend to get the reset button and they’ll have been helped by the promotion path they walked last year. A draw with Roscommon left the Galway game seismic, something they’ll not want later this month away to an in-form Cork.
The Derry boss has pulled no punches over the settled nature of his team. The selection pattern backs it up.
Gareth McKinless was one of Derry’s goalscorers last season against Clare and his return will have left the competition at training high over the past week. Add in the impact of Lachlan Murray and Oisin McWilliams from the bench.
Benny Heron limped out of the win over Dublin and will be hoping the extra week gives him the chance of making himself available for selection.
Derry know what they face this weekend, a team fighting for their lives with Colm Collins bidding to extend their stay in the second tier to eight seasons.
They sneaked victory at home to Louth before four goals saw them unstuck against Meath. After that, they had Kildare and Dublin beat before letting their foot off their throats.
There is also an interesting aside this weekend with new Sleacht Néill manager Mark Doran being part of the Clare management team. Since agreeing the gig at Emmet Park he’ll also have had a keen eye on Glen’s progress, helping him build up a picture of what they’ll face this weekend.
On the other hand, few study the game like Gallagher and if the players once again buy into his urgency, they’ll control their fate.
The bulk of Clare’s scoring return has come via Eoin Cleary (0-18, 11f), Gavin Cooney (1-9, 2f, 1m) and Emmet McMahon (0-16, 8f).
‘Podge’ Collins and Keelan Sexton were back in the pack after early season injuries.
Clare replaced goalkeeper David Sexton with Stephen Ryan after the Banner shipped the goals against Meath so it remains to be seen if Cork’s three goals forces another rethink.
It was Derry’s ruthless nature of hitting the net that blew Clare out of the water in Croke Park last season, but they coughed up soft goals themselves.
The Oakleafers have waited 12 months to stand shoulder to shoulder with promotion and if they are mentally at the pitch of it, they’ll get the job done with a game to spare.