Kevin Cassidy

KEVIN CASSIDY: Rory and three reasons why Derry can challenge

THINGS are starting to heat up as the games come thick and fast week after week.

We had a couple of impressive outings last week from a few teams who perhaps had some question marks hanging over them in the lead up to the championship. They responded well.

For me this week, my full focus will be on the Derry versus Donegal clash. This game has been on my mind for a number of weeks now and I have been keeping one eye on how Derry have been progressing through this year’s National League campaign.


I am going to say from the outset that I still believe Donegal will come through this week’s clash, but I earmarked this game a number of weeks ago as a difficult assignment for Declan Bonner and his troops.

There are a number of reasons why I think this may be one of the toughest games that Donegal will face, and I suppose where better to start than with Derry manager Rory Gallagher.

Having spent so long within the Donegal camp, both working as a selector under Jim McGuinness before eventually taking the reins himself as manager, and with him now living in Donegal, he knows these players inside out.

Knowledge alone will not help him defeat Donegal but when that is mixed with a serious calibre of player and a solid structural base then that will definitely give him a fighting chance.

Rory has, of course, come up against Donegal in the recent past but for me the time just wasn’t right and he didn’t have the players at his disposal to conjure up a plan to beat Donegal. This time, however, he has been building this team nicely and they do look like a well-oiled machine.

I attended the league game against Cavan up in Kingspan Breffni a number of weeks ago and I have to say that although Cavan rallied late and made a game of it, I was seriously impressed by this Derry team.

We know the likes of Chrissy McKaigue and other players that have been there and soldiered hard over the last number of years, but there are three players who stood head and shoulders above the rest for me.

I want to start with number six Gareth McKinless as he is so important to this Derry outfit. During the course of the Cavan game he tore them apart with his lung-bursting runs from his own half-back line. Gareth has pace to burn and he is a very accomplished footballer to go with it. I think those two attributes will cause Donegal problems this weekend.

The next Derry man I want to focus on is Glen powerhouse Conor Glass. Conor seems to be getting better with each passing game as it took him a little while to settle back into things after returning from the AFL. His physical strength and ball-winning ability will also cause Donegal problems this weekend and when you add in his mobility then you can see how hard he can be to handle.

The last piece of the jigsaw is the free-scoring Sleacht Néill ace Shane McGuigan. Shane brings that scoring threat that all top teams need. Derry haven’t had that on the edge of the square since Paddy Bradley.

If you cannot score or at least pose a serious threat then you have no chance of beating the likes of Donegal and over the last number of years Derry didn’t have that score-getting ability, and that’s why the failed time and time again. Shane will offer them an outlet and he will also pin back the Donegal defence as they will be scared to leave him isolated one on one because he can cause serious damage if he is given space and time.

If those three players are allowed to play then there is no doubt that Derry will pose problems for Donegal this Sunday afternoon.

On the flipside you can be sure that Declan Bonner and Stephen Rochford will have a plan to negate the influence of these three fine players.

From a Donegal point of view, this again is about coming through this challenge without picking up any more injuries and perhaps getting some much-needed game-time into the legs of Michael Murphy, Odhran Mac Niallais, Stephen McMenamin and co.

I’ve said to you before that in order to get where they want to go, Donegal will need a fully fit squad and that’s where they will be tested this weekend.

There is a lot of talk around Michael Murphy and the fact that Declan Bonner may rest him for this game but I’m not sure that Donegal will have that luxury. Knowing Michael, he will want to play if it as at all possible.

I do think that Derry will put it up to Donegal this weekend but much like the first game against Down, I expect Donegal to have too much scoring power combined with that know-how of winning tough championship games. Therefore I’ll go with a Donegal victory by four points.

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