McGuigan relishing life in the top-flight

By Michael McMullan

PLAYING in front of bumper crowds are something Derry dreamt of insists Shane McGuigan.

The 26-year-old marked his 70th senior appearance with an 11-point haul in Saturday’s win over Monaghan.

While Celtic Park wasn’t as wedged full as their wins over Tyrone and Dublin in the league, McGuigan still hailed the importance of the fans getting behind the team.

In the absence of Conor Glass, McGuigan hoisted the McKenna Cup aloft before appealing for Derry fans to make the trip to Tralee, while also acknowledging the cost involved.

“It is amazing,” McGuigan said after Saturday’s win put Derry in top spot. “You’re getting thousands (at games) and you don’t know how much it honestly means to each and every one of the boys in there.

“Every game, even before the Tyrone game, two hours beforehand the stand was full. This is what we’ve dreamed of.”

It’s a world apart from the fateful Sunday in Sligo when McGuigan’s first senior goal for the county wasn’t enough to prevent a defeat that sealed their relegation to Division Four on the final day of the league season.

“Compared to Markievicz Park that day, it was a dull day for the county,” he said, almost six years on.

“We’ve built from there. Plenty of faces have come and gone since then, but there’s a great core of boys there that are worth believing in and we believe there’s something we can do this year or next.

“We know we still have a lot of work to do. We’ve put a lot of work in to get to Division One so we are just relishing every opportunity we get.

“We take every learning from every game and there’s no better learning than playing against the best in Division One.”

In terms of new faces, Mickey Harte has used 35 players across his seven games so far with Eunan Mulholland – McGuigan’s cousin – the eighth player to make his debut under the new boss.

With the absence of injured trio Cormac Murphy, Gareth McKinless and Odhrán Lynch, Saturday gave an opportunity for others to stake a claim.

“We’ve boys that know the system well and we trust them,” McGuigan said of the players in the squad.

“When you are bringing in the likes of Niall Toner, Donncha Gilmore and, you have to give it to him, Ryan Scullion. The composure he showed, he set the tone for us with his first kick-out.

“He was the epitome of calmness today. When we have a calm ’keeper, it spreads throughout the team and I thought he was brilliant.”

Another player was Diarmuid Baker who hadn’t played county football at any level before this season, having come into the panel in 2023 on the back of impressive Sigerson Cup performances.

“He stuck to it,” McGuigan said. “He takes the learnings and he is a wild one to learn – he’ll be asking you questions. I see him over talking to Chrissy (McKaigue) and Gareth (McKinless) and he’ll come over to the forwards seeing what they want to do.

“When you’ve boys like that who are willing to learn, you know we are in a good place.”

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