By Niall Gartland
DIVISION THREE SEMI-FINAL
Derry v Limerick
Saturday, Carrick-on-Shannon, 4pm
DERRY have picked up the plaudits for their rich vein of form not to mention attack-minded football in the group stages, but it won’t count for much if they lose to Limerick in this weekend’s league semi-final clash.
The Oak Leafers will achieve promotion if they come up trumps against Limerick, a team which finished second in their Division Three South group, but if they lose, they’ll effectively go home empty handed.
Rory Gallagher’s team scored a mammoth 6-50 across their group stage matches against Longford, Fermanagh and Cavan, winning all three games.
They’ve won a lot of praise as a consequence of their free-flowing style, but that’s not to say that Gallagher has completely abandoned his defensive instincts; their defence held out well in all three games apart from conceding two unnecessary goals against the Breffni county.
Shane McGuigan has been their key weapon up front, but nor have they been entirely reliant on his attacking gifts.
Niall Loughlin scored a tremendous individual goal against Cavan when he could’ve taken the easy option of palming the ball over the bar, while Emmett Bradley and Conor Glass have been in imperious form in the middle of the pitch.
Elsewhere, Gareth McKinless has been a revelation at centre half-back while Karl McKaigue is making his way back to fitness.
On a more negative note, their impressive full-back Brendan Rogers injured his hamstring with 10 minutes to go against Cavan so he’s touch and go to play any part against Limerick.
Their Munster opponents won two of their group stage matches – they narrowly overcame Tipperary on their first day out, lost to Offaly by two points in round two, and qualified for the semi-finals by virtue of a convincing 10-point win over Wicklow.
They’re now on the cusp of achieving back-to-back promotions, and it’s worth noting that they had 10 different scorers against Wicklow, with Hugh Bourke scoring 1-7 and Danny Neville grabbing 1-3.
“To come out of places like this and consolidate Division Two, you’ve got to have the bit between your teeth and the gumption in your brain to be ready for the battle,” said Limerick manager Billy Lee afterwards. So they talk a good game, but Derry should still have enough to secure a place in the league final – and more importantly, promotion to the ranks of Division Two.