By Michael McMullan
IT’S a case of unbeaten meets unbeaten on Saturday (5pm) as the Royals make the trip to Owenbeg.
Rory Gallagher’s side will have the Meath challenge fresh in the memory from last season when a Niall Loughlin goal in an unanswered 1-4 blitz in the last 10 minutes dug victory from the jaws of defeat in Navan.
Derry have backed up their McKenna Cup win this season with a facile win over Limerick and by coming out on the right side of a battle with Louth in Ardee.
Despite trailing by two points and Louth beginning to get a handle on the breaks, Rory Gallagher felt his side were the better team on the day.
It was a game a less settled Derry side may have coughed up. The experience banked from winning five consecutive championship games last summer and a set of finely tunes engines ensured the Oaks were left standing thanks to a goal from Niall Toner.
“We’ll take it one game at a time and we’ll put everything into the Meath game now,” Gallagher said of facing Leinster teams three weeks in a row, starting with Colm O’Rourke’s unbeaten side this weekend.
Saturday will be a 61st senior appearance for Brendan Rogers who has found a new home at midfield alongside Conor Glass at midfield and with Meath’s eye for goal, it will be interesting to see if he stays there.
Gallagher confirmed Gareth McKinless missed the win over Louth as a precaution due to a “tight quad” and the Ballinderry man would be a welcome returnee this weekend against a side that have scored an average of two goals a game under O’Rourke’s all-action approach.
Hamstring injury victims Matthew Costello and Shane Walsh would be a huge loss to Meath this weekend if the two-week break isn’t enough to get them back on track.
If Eoin McEvoy, replaced against Louth, is retained for a third league appearance, it will be interesting to see how Derry set up.
Cillian O’Sullivan 3-6 (1m), Donal Lenihan 3-7 (5f) and Jordan Morris 2-7 (1m, 1f) have packed enough punch in Meath’s five outings this season to make this the first real test of Derry’s promotion credentials.
Chrissy McKaigue, Conor McCluskey and Paudi McGrogan will be key markers in defence with Conor Glass another vital link with his telepathic defensive sense to drop back from midfield.
Meath haven’t conceded a goal in 327 minutes since Carlow’s Darragh Foley hit the net early in their first game of the season.
On the flipside, Limerick – thanks to a late Chrissy McKaigue block – and Tyrone in the group stages were Derry’s only clean sheets in their six-game 2023 journey to date.
Bering on the right side of the umpire’s green flag will have a huge say in Derry taking a 100 per cent record to Kildare on Sunday week.