Derry’s biggest test awaits

By Michael McMullan

AFTER backing up their McKenna Cup win with a full set of league points, Derry face their biggest test of the season on Saturday night.

The Oakleafers welcome All-Ireland champions Dublin to Celtic Park for a repeat of last year’s Division Two encounter they won thanks to Brendan Rogers’ late point.

Dublin turned the tables in the final with a comprehensive win on their way to landing the Sam Maguire in the summer.

With their top flight status secured after Sunday’s win in Salthill, Derry can now look ahead to the next phase of the season.

A spot in the league final is well within their grasp with the visit of Donegal in April another key date as they put their Ulster title on the line.

With Derry’s growing injury list, Saturday will give Harte a chance to get a look at more of his players against high quality opposition.

Conor Doherty – who along with Newbridge clubmate Paudi McGrogan had played every minute of Derry’s previous seven games – was replaced after picking up a knee injury against Galway.

Doherty is get to get a scan to assess any damage while hamstring victims Gareth McKinless and Odhrán Lynch will also be missing.

“They won’t be back for next week, put it like that but they are getting better as time goes on,” Harte said before rating Cormac Murphy as “touch and go” after his broken finger against Tyrone.

“He might make the panel, it all depends. It is the healing of his finger and depends how well it has healed at this stage,” Harte said.

The Derry boss was content to have secured their Division One status in their first season back at the top table since 2015.

With Dublin heading north this weekend after their impressive showing against Kerry, Harte doesn’t see it as a case of laying down a marker but as an exciting prospect.

“I just wish they weren’t playing so well the week before the game,” he said. “It is about us improving our performance. It is about us matching ourselves against different quality of opposition every time we go out and asking ourselves, ‘how are we doing with these?’ That’s the game next week.

“We are dealing with the top team in the country obviously and we have to see what we can do with what they present, that’s going to be a really big ask.

“It is all about the learning process, the building blocks of experience into as many players as possible; about dealing with life at the top level and when you are in Division One you are doing that.”

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