Rory Gallagher and Conor McCluskey reflect on a job well done at Croke Park
Rory Gallagher and Conor McCluskey reflect on a job well done at Croke Park

Gallagher has had one eye on Ulster all along

By Kevin Egan

Securing promotion was nothing more than Rory Gallagher expected in 2021, and the Fermanagh native is now very happy to turn his full attention to the Ulster championship and a meeting with either Derry or Donegal – though he admitted tonight that he’s had one eye on these two prospective rivals throughout the season so far.

“From we got going, I expected to get promotion, I expected to win all the games” Gallagher said in the aftermath of their 0-21 to 1-6 win over the Faithful County.

“I expect us to be a wee bit better than we are, that’s a sign of the potential of the team. But we had to prove that we were good enough to get out of Division Three. I’d be very pleased with the attitude and commitment to each other. We want to be one of the top teams in Ulster and in the country, and to do that we had to get out of Division Three.

“We were thinking of it (the Ulster Championship) after the first league game. We felt, the way we came out of the blocks it was going to take a very unlikely series of events for us not to be promoted. We were good enough to come out the other side. So our eyes have been on Down and Donegal”.

In order to bridge the gap with Division One or Two opposition, doing a better job of converting chances created will be high on Gallagher’s agenda – particularly goal chances. Derry created five gilt-edged opportunities tonight, but failed to take any of them. Against Offaly, it didn’t matter, but in championship football up against better opposition, they may not have that sort of leeway.

“We were very wasteful, probably kept Offaly with half a chance in the game too long. There were moments today when I felt we just took wrong options and, call it what you want, we were a bit selfish on the ball, which I wouldn’t be happy with whatsoever. It’s not unlucky when you miss some chances, and we’ve worked on that”.

Overall however, it was good news down the card. Conor Glass was particularly influential at midfield, and the returning Glen player is likely to have a big say in Derry’s fortunes this Summer.

“Everything about Conor [has been pleasing]. I’d heard so much about him, I never actually saw him playing at underage, I was generally always involved in senior football at the time and paid very little attention. But I had heard a lot about him and knew enough about the character of him to throw him in last year, myself and the management, when he was very rusty.

“He had one training session under him when he came on against Longford. I think since that he’s improved and improved. He’s very humble, he puts the team first. There’s a lot of skills in Gaelic football but your ability to play for the team, and his willingness to do that, is exceptional.

The Derry manager also confirmed that Karl McKaigue and Brendan Rodgers are back training and should be in the mix, while naming several others as players that have put a lot of work into upping their performances, resulting in five wins out of five this year so far.

“Look, we want to play Division One and Division Two teams. It would have been five years if Derry hadn’t got back into that top 16 and that’s not somewhere I and obviously the county board and every supporter feel they should” he said.

“Some of these players were here and partly involved in the drop to Division Four, so I have great admiration for the way they have stuck at it and there is some new blood in as well.

“We are a team at a right age. We haven’t too many young fellas but we haven’t too many old fellas. Christopher (McKaigue) is slightly older at 31 or 32 but he looks after himself and I would be confident he would be playing when he is 38 or 39.

“I would want to be going into the Championship with 12, 13, 14 of my team crystal clear. People going to the matches should almost be able to pick the team. You don’t want to hide who the best players are.

“Everybody knows Dublin’s team. Same as the Kerry team. That’s the level most teams aspire to, Donegal, Tyrone, Monaghan have been dominating Ulster, people could pick their first 14 all the time” he concluded.