By Michael McMullan
DERRY hurlers begin a challenging Division 2A campaign at home to Kerry on Saturday (Celtic Park 2pm) without the spine of the team that gained promotion last season.
Of the team that saw off Sligo in the promotion final, 14 of the 26 players listed in the programme are not part of new manager Johnny McGarvey’s squad.
“There has been a lot of sorting out to do and a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes but I am settling in okay,” McGarvey told Gaelic Life.
When officials and players sounded out his interest it came “out of the blue” to McGarvey who was fully aware of the panel situation before coming on board.
“There has been a lot of work going on, I am settling in now that there are good people involved. We are happy enough but we have a lot of work to so,” he said.
Former Ulster winning captain Conor Murray remained on board from last year’s management team, with Oisin Quinn again tasked with looking after the squad’s strength and conditioning.
McGarvey has added former Derry forward Gareth O’Kane to complete his management team. O’Kane, who is still playing club hurling, was a pervious winning captain for Sleacht Néill at the start of their haul of 10 consecutive senior championships.
“There has been a massive change from a panel that had got promoted last year,” said of an exodus that amounts to nine players what played in their 2022 win over Sligo for a “variety” of reasons.
Conor Kelly and Odhran McKeever are currently in Australia. Also opting out are defenders Paddy Kelly, Ciaran Hendry and Darragh McCloskey. Gerald Bradley, Fintan Bradley and Deaghlan Foley are also gone.
“That has been the biggest challenge…getting a panel of players together that are committed and want to move forward for Derry,” McGarvey pointed out.
“It is a bit like Derry football was a few years ago, that revolving door with players in and out every year. The challenge now is getting a group of lads together over a longer period of time so we are not going back to this situation where we are trying to put panels together every year.”
There has been a return for Ballinascreen’s versatile player Paul Cleary, with clubmate Cormac Gough – who top-scored with 1-45 in the Derry championship season – coming on board.
Young players Segdae Melaugh, Aimon Duffin (both Lavey) and Daire Kelly of Ballinascreen have come on board. Swatragh duo Cathal and Sean Francis Quinn are also part of the panel.
McGarvey will have to wait on Sean Kelly to return to fitness after undergoing surgery.
Cormac O’Doherty and Mark Craig will remain as captain and vice-captain respectively.
“Their leadership speaks for itself,” said McGarvey, who will be looking to the experience of goalkeeper Oisin O’Doherty, Meehaul McGrath, Brian Óg McGilligan and Richie Mullan.
“It is very much a building job at the minute…that’s the reality of it all. Time will tell how much of an impact that will make to us.
“We are missing a group of players that have been playing inter-county hurling over the last three or four years.”
Speaking on Monday, McGarvey hadn’t finalised his first starting line-up but was expecting four debuts for the visit of the Kingdom, last year’s Joe McDonagh Cup finalists, followed by games against the last two Christy Ring Cup winners Offaly and Kildare.
“It’s a tough start but we can only do what we can do and prepare the best way we can prepare and see how we go
“We need to create a culture in Derry hurling, all of us together, where players come together and want to be there.
“Derry hurling has to be looking at a long-term play, at development. We have to start somewhere.”