By Michael McMullan
A COLLECTIVE “ambition” and “togetherness” is paying dividends in Derry according to attacker Benny Heron.
Having made his debut in 2013 when Derry were last promoted to Division One, the Ballinascreen man has experienced the dark days on the fall to the fourth tier and is glad to see the bounce back.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Heron, who is on the cusp of his 100th senior appearance for the county.
“When you are up in Division One and you think this is the way it is going to be, but we obviously had a significant downfall and it has been a tough few years.
“I am absolutely delighted that Derry are back in Division One where I think they belong.”
Heron’s eye for goal lit up last season’s championship run and he is now cherishing every minute in the Derry jersey.
Every day is about putting his best foot forward and playing at the highest level possible is what it’s all about.
“Over the last few years, things weren’t right and there is a great togetherness now and a great ambition within the county.
“Everybody is pulling together in the right direction and you can see the difference that is making on the field.”
Standing in the Owenbeg tunnel, there is an expression of satisfaction.
Last year’s league story was one of near, yet so far.
In the off-season, promotion was the top of the pile.
Heron puts the progress down to players stepping up a level with a great depth emerging in the squad.
“A lot of players, individually, have stepped up,” he said. “There are boys playing absolutely out of their skin and we have developed a lot of other players who have come into the squad.”
He points to the addition of Eoin McEvoy and the freeing up of Brendan Rogers. Paul Cassidy has pushed on after a “brilliant” season in 2022.
“Ethan (Doherty) was brilliant and has continued that on…you could say that for a lot of boys,” Heron added, while commending the impact of the squad on their defining league win over Dublin.
“The difference was Gareth (McKinless) came on, Oisin (McWilliams) came on and Lachlan (Murray) came on to make a difference,” he said.
“That’s what you need, you can’t be relying on 15 boys.
“You need game-changers coming off the bench and I think we are really developing a strong panel, a committed panel and boys who want Derry to win.
“Everybody is putting their shoulder to the wheel to try and get the best out of themselves to help Derry win something.”
If selected for Sunday’s trip to Cork, it will he Heron’s 100th senior appearance. Only Chrissy McKaigue (121) on the current panel has more football under his belt.
“That’s nice to hear and when you finish your career, you’ll probably reflect on that and it was a long time coming,” he said, hinting at times when he pondered over his inter-county future.
“It gets tougher and tougher every year and I have a young family; it is very difficult. The way things are going, how committed this bunch are and the belief we have, it would’ve been extremely hard to walk away over the last few years.”
He points to how Rory Gallagher and a backroom team that includes his St Colm’s Draperstown teaching colleague Ciaran Meenagh “reinvigorated” the camp.
“It makes you want to play for as long as you can,” he added, with the high-tempo tunes echoing from the Derry dressing room behind him.
”There is a serious freshness to it. Everyone is really enjoyed it, spending time with each other and bring up here. That makes a big difference.