Derry’s blanket defence ready to turn up heat on Down
Fergal Doherty’s return to midfield alongside Niall Holly will be welcomed by home side
Fergal Doherty in action here against Jason Gibbons for Mayo, is back in midfield for Derry this weekend. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Two teams waving at each other on the escalators, with Derry relegated and Down promoted to Division One. The home side have, however, spent an instructive league drilling themselves in the dark protocols of defensive football, a process that attracted public opprobrium in Croke Park two months ago.
Manager Brian McIver lamented during the campaign that he was short large numbers of first-choice players but that has been remedied and it’s a strong looking Derry selection. Fergal Doherty is back starting at centrefield after missing much of the league and the same is true of Eoin Bradley, who lines out at full forward.
Doherty’s return is particularly welcome given the lack of options in the middle and Niall Holly, who spent most of the league at full back, starts there as well tomorrow. Slaughtneil’s Brendan Rogers makes his debut at full back, a risk lessened by the defensive system the team deploys.
Down had a good league campaign and topped Division Two and if their final defeat by Roscommon was a disappointment, they had alibis, having lost Mark Poland to an eye injury sustained in the warm-up and Brendan McArdle to a hotly contested red card.
Caolan Mooney will also have more preparation time under his belt. Derry’s blanket defence has been devised with Donegal in mind but the immediate task is tricky enough without focusing on the next round. Nonetheless, McIvor’s work this year has made Derry a more solid collective and harder to beat. Down have lost a clutch of experienced quality players and the home side looks more likely to advance to the semi-final.