manager Brian McIver heads for Croke Park on Saturday needing long-odds combination of results to avoid relegation just a year after reaching the league final.
Marooned on one point, three behind Tyrone and Donegal, who face each other at the weekend, Derry must beat Dublin and Cork and hope the teams immediately above them draw their match and lose their final fixtures on Sunday week.
“Of course we’re disappointed to have taken one point out of 10 having reached last year’s final but the big difference has been that we lost so many players through one thing or and another. So we’ve had to blood lads against the best teams in the country playing with 10/11/12. Fair dues to them. They have been in every game right until the death and with a bit of luck could have won a couple of them at least. In the long term that will have done the world of good.”
Late scores cost the team against Tyrone and Mayo but the heaviest burden has been the absence of so many first-choice players. "There are lads in England who aren't available for training. Eoin Bradley's still involved with Glenavon. The Slaughtneil players have been with the club (reaching All-Ireland final) and the Ballinderry lads – one of them suspended and so the rest of them not playing. I sat down last Monday just to check where we're at and we had 20 players not available to us.
“But look, we pay little attention to people that aren’t there. We work with the fellas that are there and they’ve manfully stuck to their task.”
Returning to Croke Park at the weekend will bring mixed memories of last year, ranging from the team’s best result, a win over the previous year’s All-Ireland finalists Mayo and the most chastening, a 15-point defeat by Dublin in the final. McIver doesn’t however believe the big setback in April left the team with a championship hangover. “That would be a view held by some but not necessarily by ourselves. We’d played Dublin a couple of weeks previously in Celtic Park and done really well (winning by six points) but Dublin in Croke Park in front of a big crowd is a totally different prospect.
“The fellas know that and we hope this weekend we really perform in Croke Park because if for no other reason it will show that we have improved and developed since that particular performance.
"As regards championship I believe that but for the loss of Fergal Doherty we had Donegal in trouble in Ulster but a couple of wee things went against us and I don't think it had anything to do with a hangover from the league final."
McIver believes the advantages of being in the top division can be overstated and that playing in Division Two isn’t as big a hindrance for the summer as is sometimes projected. “In terms of the championship and I said this last year . . . there is not a serious difference on any given day between the first division and second division. Donegal went to an All-Ireland final after being in Division Two. Obviously in terms of development though, you want to be in Division One.”