By Michael McMullan
AS the dust settled on Derry’s concession of four goals in Sunday’s league defeat to Dublin, manager Rory Gallagher was adamant his side would be giving the Ulster Championship their full focus.
“I think it was a brilliant league, we’re delighted to get to Division One,” Gallagher said in summary of their 2023 to date.
“We are delighted to learn, the two games against Dublin we have learnt more than we learnt in 18 league games before that, apart from the day against Galway.”
With all the talk of a new championship format and three group games ahead of the business end of the All-Ireland series, a narrative has been circulating about counties not putting all their eggs in the provincial championship basket. Derry are not one of them.
“The Ulster Championship is massive, you have local prestige. I think it gives you a serious ranking,” said Gallagher of their title defence that begins away to Fermanagh on Saturday week.
“I can tell you one thing…Dublin are going to win Leinster, Kerry are going to win Munster. I’d rather win Ulster so you’re ranked to avoid them.
“There’s no denying it. I think there’s a great prize for it. I think it’s a great structure for the championship now and worth going for.”
Looking back on their league final defeat, the Derry boss was happy with much of the first half and how they forced David O’Hanlon to go long on the Dublin kick-outs.
There was a spell before half-time when he drove one in the direction of Glass who made a Shane McGuigan score, followed by a second after Conor McCluskey won a ball in front of Con O’Callaghan.
“It’s the competition (teams get) and we tried to have a go at each other,” Gallagher on the value of Sunday aside from picking up silverware.
“I’d be happy with a lot of the first half, I think we should have stretched it out.
“Up until they got the third goal I thought we played really well, there was nothing between the teams.
“But we’ve got to take our chances. The Ben McCarron chance, we missed a number of point-scoring chances in the first half.
“We found out we’re still not putting up enough scores when we should. A lot of the games we’ve played over the last couple of years, we’ve run away with them and our lack of clinical edge hasn’t been found out.
“We didn’t punish them (Dublin) in the first half with a number of easy scoring chances. Any mistake you make against any top-level team, you’re going to struggle.
“I’m delighted to get tested like that. I think Dublin will be glad of the game, I’m not sure what Dessie (Farrell) said (in his interviews), but we set a different type of puzzle to probably a lot of the other teams they played.”