By Michael McMullan
DERRY attacking ace John Mullan has heaped praise on their new-look management team after stepping in at the eleventh hour this season to help guide the Oakleafers to Saturday week’s Christy Ring Cup against Meath in Croke Park (5pm).
Johnny McGarvey answered the call just three weeks before the league opener with Kerry after Dominic McKinley and Cormac Donnelly stepped away from the post.
McGarvey, who had spent eight years in charge of his native Lavey, brought former Derry forward Gareth O’Kane on board to join former Ulster winning captain Conor Murray and strength and conditioning coach Oisin Quinn who both remained from the outgoing management team
“I couldn’t give Johnny and the boys enough credit,” Mullan said at Thursday’s media evening at Owenbeg. “It wasn’t the most attractive of jobs, but to be fair to Johnny, when he came in, he took it by the scruff of the neck.”
Derry lost 18 of last year’s panel – for various reasons – including eight players who started last year’s Division 2B promotion play-off win over Sligo.
McGarvey handed out 11 debuts and it took time for the new team to settle after chastening defeats at the hands of Kerry and Offaly.
A contentious free saw Derry lose a one-point lead in the dying embers of their visit to Ballycran, with Down staying up on score difference,
Derry regrouped in the Christy Ring Cup and now aim to go one better than their final defeats of 2015 and 2021 in this year’s showdown.
“From where they took us (from) the start of the season. It was bleak looking,” Mullan said of Derry’s progress that has included a new target of aiming for a minimum of 25 points per game after tasting life in Division 2A.
“You knew as soon as Johnny was taking it, he was a big Derry hurling man,” Mullan added.
“When we didn’t get over the line in the league to get staying up, it was heartbreak. You were nearly annoyed for Johnny, Oisin and Gareth.
“They put in a serious amount of work. They are the last men to leave here at night and they are some of the first men here.”
Check out next week’s Gaelic Life for a full interview with John Mullan…