By Niall Gartland
JOHNNY McGarvey is hopeful of a more stable league campaign in his second year in charge of the Derry hurlers.
They find themselves in Division 2B having suffered relegation last year, but they’ve had a much more productive pre-season under their belts as they look ahead to their season opener against Tyrone in Celtic Park this Sunday.
It’s an appetising clash and it’s no gimme that the Oakleafers will prevail, whatever about the contrasting traditions of the two counties.
They played out a phenomenal match in the Christy Ring group stages last year, Tyrone staging a memorable comeback on home turf before the match eventually ended up a draw.
McGarvey believes that they’ve done what they can in the lead up to the encounter so he can’t wait to get cracking as they set about springing back to Division 2A at the first time of asking.
“That’s the aim alright but I’m sure all the teams are thinking the same. Our aim is promotion and we’re disappointed we’re in this position but last year our preparation just wasn’t right.
“We were fine for short periods in matches but over 75-80 minutes the reality is we just weren’t good enough.
“We’ve a couple of injuries – Eamon Conway and Sean Francis Quinn who started the Christy Ring final last year will certainly miss the first half of the league but everyone else is back.
“We’ve done a lot of work and we feel we’re in a reasonably good position and we’re looking forward to getting started.”
Standing in their way of an opening day league win is a Tyrone side that have come on in leaps and bounds in recent seasons. They’re under new management this season but their head honcho Stephen McGarry was involved in a coaching capacity under outgoing manager Michael McShane, so you’d assume it’ll be a smooth enough transition. Last year’s Christy Ring encounter ended up a high-scoring draw and the Derry boss isn’t expecting anything simple.
“The Tyrone game last year was as good as any game we had all year, it certainly could’ve gone either way and we were happy enough to get a draw.
“We take everyone on their own merits and all the teams will feel they have a good shout of promotion. Tyrone will be well prepared, they put us under serious pressure last year so we know what to expect from them.”
Sunday’s game will be played as the curtain raiser to the men’s encounter between Mickey Harte’s Derry and Tyrone in Celtic Park. It’s an exciting way to start the season but in the long run Derry will have their eyes on success on the league and championship front, having lost the Christy Ring Cup final to Meath last season by only two points.
“The dream scenario is promotion and to win the Christy Ring, but the championship is down the line and there’s a lot of hurling to be played before we get that far.
“At the minute we’re just focused on the league and getting promoted hopefully and we’ll deal with the rest as it comes.”