Oisin McCloskey: 'It's easy to be enthusiastic'
By John Harrington
It looks like Derry hurling is finally gaining some altitude again after a disastrous 2016 that saw them in free-fall.
Christy Ring Cup finalists in 2015, they were relegated from the competition last after losing all four of their matches.
That campaign came on the back of an equally miserable League that saw them lose five from five by an average margin of eight points and drop from Division 2A to 2B.
Collie McGurk was appointed manager late last year and tasked with the challenge of reviving the county’s hurling fortunes.
So far he’s done a good job. He convinced most of the best players in the county to commit to the cause, and their progress to Saturday’s Nicky Rackard Cup Final is a testament to the progress that has been made behind the scenes.
Team captain Oisin McCloskey is revelling the experience of being part of a committed group who have rediscovered the joy of winning matches.
“If you compare it just to last year, like any sport, when you're losing it's not enjoyable,” says McCloskey. “We're winning this year, have had a wee bit of success, and it gives everyone a wee lift.
“It's easier going to training and you're a wee bit more enthusiastic about everything.
“We've got a lot of boys back. A few boys had retired, from the previous year, that are back, plus the Slaughtneil men which is a massive help.
“They're the standout team in Derry, and possibly Ulster, this five years. Because of their success we haven't seen those players but we've got them back two months and it's been a serious boost to the panel.
“I'm saying it for years, and I'll probably still be saying it after this year, that if you got everyone out you don't know where you could end up. You could push on to a serious level. Hopefully we're starting to get that this year, Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rodgers coming in and involved this last six weeks now.
“If you get them involved and hopefully it might encourage other players. Before, players would say they'd pick one or the other, so hopefully we might be able to get everyone out. We're looking to push on, we're not looking past Saturday at all though, it's a tough game.
“In terms of the long or medium-term, that's what Derry hurling is all about, getting the players out, that's what we've struggled with for years.”
Dual players are close to an extinct species now, but McCloskey believes the example of Chrissy McKaigue proves it’s still possible to combine both codes at the highest level.
“That's what he's doing this past two months,” says McCloskey. “Whether he can do that year on year as he gets older, I don't know, but it might encourage other players to possibly do the same.
“As you've seen yourselves through the club with Slaughtneil, he's a serious athlete and he's got the hurling to go with it. He's a big, big boost to us.
“He's in some shape so he seems to take it all in his stride, he's playing every week and training every week, he doesn't miss too many sessions.”
Derry haven’t just got a better team this year in terms of personnel, they’re also playing a more effective brand of hurling.
Manager Collie McGurk was a no-nonsense player in his own day, and he demands his team hurls with the same sort of controlled aggression.
“He definitely doesn't try to hide away from that or change that, that was his style and he definitely tries to make sure we have that,” says McCloskey.
“He's good at getting us going before a match. It's a sport you play on the edge, with a passion, if you're not playing that way you'll be found wanting.”
McCloskey is wary of the challenge that Armagh will pose because there has been little between the two teams in recent years, but ultimately he hopes a win in the Rackard Cup Final Croke Park on Saturday can be the launch-pad for bigger days ahead for Derry hurling.
“It would be a bit of silverware in Croke Park. We want to get back to Christy Ring level to try to push on to see where we can go to,” he says.
“That's the big thing. It's nice, a bonus that it is in Croke Park but it's really about pushing on, that's the really big prize we're going for.”