Derry hurling boss wary of potential banana skin

By Niall Gartland

DERRY hurlers begin their Christy Ring Cup campaign this weekend as they commence their quest to go one better than last year in the competition.

The Oakleafers lost last year’s final by a mere two points against Meath, but manager Johnny McGarvey knows it would be foolhardy to look beyond the group stages, starting with Sunday’s trip to Aughrim to take on Wicklow.

Derry not only won the Division 2B title but were the only side to emerge unbeaten in their six games in total. Somewhat curiously, however, their only slip up of sorts came against a Wicklow side that finished dead last in the table.

They played out a draw that day so Derry boss McGarvey is conscious that they can’t take their opponents for granted this weekend.

“We set out our stall at the start of the year to achieve promotion and win the league title but the championship is ultimately what it’s all about.

“I know it’s an oul cliché but we’ll take every game at a time. We got to the final last year with three wins and a draw from five games, there’s not much room for error so we need to set our stall out against Wicklow.

“We’re expecting a really tricky game. We found it difficult down there to get motoring in the league, there were a lot of frees and conditions weren’t great, and we struggled to get into any sort of flow. I think it could be a similar enough game in the sense that they’ll try to disrupt our rhythm so we’ll need to be prepared for that.”

The Christy Ring Cup comprises six teams – Derry, Wicklow, Tyrone, Kildare, London, Sligo. Four of those teams played in Division 2B this year, Sligo operated in Division 3A, while Kildare finished a comfortable mid-table in Division 2A. McGarvey believes Kildare hold an innate advantage heading into this year’s competition.

“I think on the whole we have a good system and I like it personally, but Kildare have a serious advantage going into it. They have a settled panel and have played four or five games at a higher level, against teams like Down, Carlow and Laois. There’s no question about it, Kildare will go in as outright favourites and rightly so.”

Two of the leading hurlers in Ulster hurling over the course of the last decade, namely Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue, have made themselves unavailable due to their footballing commitments with Derry. McGarvey is totally understanding of that but thinks it’s a pity that some top club hurlers in Derry have ruled themselves out for arguably less valid reasons.

“It’s not frustrating for me not having access to Brendan or Chrissy as they’ve never been involved during my time in charge.

“I’d have more issues with other lads who aren’t involved, there’s at least eight good players who could be on the county panel and chose not to be, but it’s their own decision ultimately.

“I appreciate it mightn’t be an easy environment to come into, there’s a lot of hard work and it’s not for everybody.

“But it’s still more frustrating than with the lads who are playing football instead but it is what it is.”

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