Dubs rematch a means to an end for Derry

National Football League Division Two final
Derry v Dublin
Sunday, Croke Park, 1.45pm

By Michael McMullan

JUST 27 days after Brendan Rogers kicked Derry to victory with the last action against the Dubs at Celtic Park, Rory Gallagher’s side will again cross swords with them.

Five years and eight days since their relegation to Division Four, Sunday will see Derry’s rebuilding project at another milestone.

They are promoted to the top flight for the first time since 2015. They are Ulster champions and they are contenders for Sam. But now it’s time to move on.

The Oakleafers’ rematch with Dublin is a means to an end. That was the feeling of a relaxed assistant manager Ciaran Meenagh at Monday’s championship launch in Armagh.

Their season was all about promotion and the focus is now on getting their house in order for a clash with Fermanagh as they aim to keep their hands on the Anglo Celt Cup.

“It sits as part of a process for getting ready for the championship as opposed to being an end in itself,” Meenagh said of the camp’s focus this week.

“It is getting promoted in the league and then it’s about getting ready for the championship. In the priorities for the year, a league final doesn’t come into it, it is simply about getting ready for the championship.”

Meenagh doesn’t entertain Derry’s 11-game unbeaten run since losing to Galway last summer. Until the stat is bounced under his nose, he isn’t even aware of it.

The McKenna Cup was nice, but a defeat wouldn’t be the end of the world. It’s the same for Sunday. Meenagh contrasts the path Galway took after losing to Roscommon in the league decider last season.

“That wouldn’t come into the psyche at all,” Meenagh said of their approach to staying unbeaten.

“Clichés are clichés for a reason and it is simply one game at a time,” he said, highlighting the importance of keeping their focus.

He uses the example of Meath and how a bright start doesn’t define a league season. It’s about repeating the dose, week after week until reaching “10 or 11” points and the cusp of promotion.

CHAMPIONSHIP PLANS…Ciaran Meenafh (left) insists Sunday’s game is just another part of their championship buildup

But Sunday is important. Meenagh is a competitor. So is Rory Gallagher. Their body language tells you that. Sunday is about a performance. That’s the most important element.

“I suppose winning is a habit,” Meenagh accepts. “Even getting hit with that goal (in Cork) at the end, it is not nice when you are winning by so much.

“It is not the end of the world whether we win or lose this weekend, but being competitive in terms of how we perform would be far more important in terms of the psychology of moving into the championship.”

Derry gave their players a week off after securing promotion. A few pints were had after their Clare victory. Some players jetted off on holidays the week before their final game.

There wasn’t even a bus for the trip south, players came in cars from the four winds.

It was their downtime before a championship season that won’t let up if Derry are to navigate a path that will equal or better their 2022 odyssey.

Before the squad rotation card was played in Cork, nine players had previously started all of the previous 10 games.

It’s hard to see Rory Gallagher moving away from his tested formula on Sunday.

Eoin McEvoy wasn’t named on the Derry squad for Wednesday’s u-20 game with Fermanagh. A “slight” groin injury carried into the Clare promotion decider saw him replaced for the third game in a row.

Impact man Oisin McWilliams – Derry’s sixth top scorer despite only having one start – is having a shin issue nursed ahead of the championship.

Meenagh wouldn’t be surprised if Chrissy McKaigue’s ankle injury doesn’t keep him from lining out this weekend.

In a way, Sunday is a free shot, a chance to play without pressure on the biggest stage against a team that has all its big guns back. Paul Mannion made his first appearance and kicked a point against Louth.

Jack McCaffrey has two sub appearances to his name. Brian Howard and Sean Bugler have made their way back. Only Craig Dias, the returning Stephen Cluxton and injured ‘keeper Evan Comerford have yet to figure.

“The league final is important to us this week, but it is only important in terms of the bigger picture and the medium-term preparation for this year’s championship,” Meenagh summed up.

“It is also important to us for the long-term evolution of the team of where it will be in 12 months or 24 months.

“It’s not the winning of the game, it’s the experience of learning we can take of learning from the Dublins, playing Dublin in Croke Park in a game where Dublin have players coming back in, we feel it is brilliant for us in terms of the long-term ambitions we’d have for the team.”



DERRY and Cavan are the only counties to have played in all four divisions in the last decade. After missing out of promotion last season, Rory Gallagher’s side went one better this season with victory over this weekend’s opponent’s Dublin a pivotal moment.


McKenna Cup
Fermanagh 1-4 Derry 0-11
Derry 0-10 Tyrone 0-10
Down 3-9 Derry 1-15 (Derry won 3-2 on penalties)
Derry 3-11 Tyrone 1-5

Derry 0-16 Limerick 0-4
Louth 1-11Derry 2-11
Derry 2-15 Meath 1-7
Kildare 0-7 Derry 2-15
Derry 1-11 Dublin 0-13
Derry 0-14 Clare 0-4
Cork 1-14 Derry 1-14

TOP SCORERS: Shane McGuigan 3-53 (2 pen, 26f, 2m, 1 45), Niall Toner 3-22 (8f), Ethan Doherty 1-11, Paul Cassidy 0-11, Lachlan Murray 0-9



THE road was bumpier than expected, but the Dubs are back in the top flight after Monaghan sent them packing on the final day of last season. Dessie Farrell’s side were in the driving seat with a six-point lead against Derry before being reeled in. They accounted for Leinster rivals Meath and Louth to secure promotion


O’Byrne Cup
Wicklow 0-9 Dublin 2-15
Dublin 0-8 Offaly 0-11

Dublin 1-11 Kildare 0-14
Limerick 1-11 Dublin 2-17
Cork 2-10 Dublin 0-18
Dublin 0-16 Clare 1-12
Derry 1-11 Dublin 0-13
Meath 1-11 Dublin 2-19
Dublin 0-16 Louth 1-6

TOP SCORERS: Dean Rock 1-21 (1 pen, 13f, 2 45), Killian O’Gara 2-13 (3f, 1m), Cormac Costello 1-15 (7f, 1 45), Con O’Callaghan 0-17 (1m), Brian Fenton 2-8 (1f)

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