Signs of a footbaling resurgence in the Derry air
Visit of All-Ireland champions Dublin a timely test for Brian McIver’s young side
Mark Lynch has been impressing at centre half back for Derry in the National League. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Last summer’s Ulster championship meeting between Derry and Down brought together the two teams who led the provincial renaissance of the early 1990s but one of the stars of that era was guarded about the Oak Leaf prospects for the season ahead. “Ask me next year after we have played Division One football,” advised Tony Scullion, Derry’s former All-Star defender.
“I have never seen a gap like it between Division One and Two.”
Scullion was part of the group that celebrated the 20th anniversary of Derry’s lone All-Ireland success last autumn, an event which was both a tribute to a splendid team and an acute reminder of just how long has passed since Derry were champions.
The provincial championship of 1998 has been the only summer silverware for Derry since their breakthrough season. But Derry’s consistency and quality in Division One has been one of the minor surprises of the early season.
For years, Derry teams occasionally flattered but consistency has proven elusive. They will anticipate the arrival of All-Ireland champions Dublin to Celtic Park this weekend in giddy mood, having posted a significant victory in Kerry and responded in terrific fashion after falling into a ten -point hole against Cork last week. They lost the match but only by a single point: they didn’t disappear.
Few will question Brian McIver’s influence on the mindset of the current squad.
When he walks into a dressing room, good things tend to happen. He guided Donegal to their only league title in 2007, he was on James McCartan’s backroom staff when Down kept winning all the way to the All-Ireland final of 2010 and he managed a dashing Ballinderry team to the All-Ireland club title back in 2002.
When he was appointed to the position of Derry manager he acknowledged that there was a lot to do.
“I have seen enough talent in terms of club football I have been watching to think that if we can get the Derry lads pulling together then we can start heading in the right direction,” he said at the time.
“There is no quick fix. Age will be no criteria. I don’t care what club they are from . . .If they can play football and will commit there is a good chance we will be looking at them. The first thing is to head in the right direction and we have to have players buying into that. “
The first season was encouraging: promotion to Division One as champions, an exit from the Ulster championship after a classic shoot-out against Down.