By Michael McMullan
SATURDAY is Rory Gallagher’s 40th game in charge of Derry with the visit of Dublin to Celtic Park as the county continue to bask in watching their side’s stock rise.
It’s a world apart from the Derry’s first two games at the city venue. His first was a mid-week defeat at the hands of Donegal in the McKenna Cup that saw him hit out the players’ preparation in his post-game interview.
Some arrived late to the pre-game meeting and others outside the matchday panel chose to sit in the stand, wearing their club gear, than mingle with the rest.
Some 17 days later, Leitrim came to Celtic Park and could’ve left with both league points rather than draw they mustered. An injury picked up at training limited Shane McGuigan to just the second half.
A week later Derry stuttered in Páirc Esler against Down before falling to defeat and promotion was all but gone. The Covid lockdown came and went, with a very different animal bearing its teeth on the way to last year’s Ulster title.
Derry needed to beat teams they weren’t expected to beat to signal progress, teams like Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal in last year’s memorable summer.
The Oakleafers will absolutely embrace the Dubs coming to town. The fact that they are favourites with the bookies speaks volumes of thier progress.
These are the days the county has been starved of. The occasions underage development were put in place for. When Derry beat Dublin in the 2017 All-Ireland Minor semi-final, Paudi McGrogan was captain, with Conor McCluskey at full-back. Oisin McWilliams and Ben McCarron were in attack, while Odhran Lynch was the sub goalkeeper and current senior panellist Ryan Scullion as third choice.
Dublin ‘keeper that day, David O’Hanlon, has played all four games to date. Ross McGarry has notched 0-8 and played all but one game. Peadar Ó Cofaigh Byrne was full-back, with Karl Lynch Bissett seeing game time in the O’Byrne Cup.
Derry know plenty about themselves, but Saturday will give another indication. A joust with a team including the lies of James McCarthy, Ciaran Kilkenny, Brian Fenton, Con O’Callaghan and Dean Rock is some environment for Derry’s growing side.
It’s a million miles from the night Leitrim almost inflicted defeat on Rory Gallagher in his league debut as Derry manager. A lot a has changed and Saturday is a free shot for Derry as they aim to go nine games unbeaten.