McKenna Cup helps Derry’s winning mentality

By Michael McMullan

CONOR McCluskey feels Derry’s McKenna Cup triumph was perfect to get into a “winning mentality” ahead of their league campaign that gets underway at home to Limerick on Saturday (3pm) at Owenbeg.

The Magherafelt defender feels it is important to win every game regardless of the competition and insists promotion is a must.

“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “It (McKenna Cup win) gives us a bit of a spring board to take into the league.”

McCluskey played his 36th senior game on Saturday since making his debut under Damian McErlain in 2018 and has started in all but 10 of 35 games under Rory Gallagher.

While heavily tipped to pick up an All-Star last season for holding everyone he marked scoreless from play – including Shane Walsh – McCloskey doesn’t feel you can ever nail down a spot at county level.

“You just have to keep fighting for your jersey and there is great competition in the squad,” he told Gaelic Life after Saturday’s win over Tyrone.

“Every day I pull on a Derry jersey, it is a special day and I want to keep doing it for a long time to come.”

He does believe the performances last season will give the squad confidence this season, something he credits manager Gallagher for drumming into them.

“It is not just me, everyone is playing with more confidence,” he said. “When you win Ulster, you believe in yourself. Rory gave us the belief that we could do it, but until you do it, I don’t think you fully have that confidence.

“Once you have that, you can keep building, building and building and hopefully we can carry that into the league.”

McCluskey is one of 12 players to have played in all four games so far this season and feels stopping the constant changing of players on the panel is a factor in Derry’s progress.

“Rory managed to stop the revolving door, as it was called, and think that is important when you are trying to build a team bond and camaraderie within the group.

“I think he has done that, it’s a testament to keeping a smaller squad compared to some of the others in the country. It is a tight-knit one and hopefully it is one that keeps building.”

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