A Christy Ring Cup 'would mean the world' to Derry hurlers
By John Harrington
Derry’s progression to Saturday’s Christy Ring Cup Final is all the more impressive considering they started off on something of a back foot this season.
Johnny McGarvey wasn’t ratified as manager until January so the Oak Leaf County were immediately playing catch-up on teams who already had weeks of preparation under their belts.
The only team in Division 2A of the Allianz Hurling League not also competing in the Joe McDonagh Cup, it was perhaps understandable that they were relegated, particularly as they had little time to prepare for the competition.
But the lessons they learned along the way have been put to good use in the Christy Ring Cup as they finished the group stage strongly to clinch their place in the final against Meath.
“We're delighted with where we're at now from where we started,” says McGarvey.
“It was an interesting enough league and we were disappointed to get relegated out of it. But the Christy Ring has gone fairly well and we're delighted to be in the final.
“We took a lot from the League, especially seeing the scoring levels the teams we played were at compared to where we were at. And also the physicality and conditioning those teams were at compared to us.
“We learned very early that physically we were way off the pace compared to the other teams. And that comes from the experience of being at that level and playing at that level, you sort of build it up over time.”
Such is the pace and finishing power in this Derry attack that you get the feeling they’ll relish the opportunity to play in Croke Park.
Cormac O’Doherty has been a hugely prolific forward for many years now, but others like Paul Cleary, Corey O’Reilly, and John Mullan are all deadly finishers too if given space.
“It's Corey's first year really starting with the senior team and he’s done really well,” says McGarvey.
“Obviously Cormac has been about a few years. Paul Cleary is in the form of his life at the moment, he's playing really, really well. John Mullan is absolutely flying for us too.
“So, yeah, we're absolutely delighted with where we're at, especially from a forward point of view. I think we hit 4-27 against Sligo, 1-30 against London, and 0-30 against Mayo so we’ve gotten to or beyond the 30-point mark in three of our five games.
“I think it's very important that you get into the 25-point plus bracket. If you're not operating there at inter-county level in the modern game then you're not going to compete, that's just the way the game has gone.
“The Meath match was probably the only game where we didn't create the chances to get those sorts of scores.”
They mightn’t have created the amount of chances they usually do, but they still ran the Royal County to two points in that match in Owenbeg, eventually losing by 1-21 to 1-19.
Relegated from the Joe McDonagh Cup in 2022, Meath were arguably the fancied team in the Christy Ring this year, and McGarvey is looking forward to going up against them again.
“We can't wait, we're really looking forward to it,” he says. “I'd agree, before it started Meath were probably the favourites, I don't think there's anything wrong with saying that.
“They came out of Division 2B undefeated whereas we were relegated from 2A with no win. They had form and they had momentum and they beat us by a couple of points in Owenbeg.
“I don't think it will have any great bearing on the match at the weekend. I think it'll come down to whoever deals with the occasion that bit better and takes their chances. I think it'll be a very even game that will come down to a point here or a point there and hopefully we come out the right side of it.”
Significant work has been done in Derry hurling circles in recent years to improve the game at club and school level, and winning a Christy Ring Cup would give the development of hurling in the county a timely shot in the arm.
“I think it's slowly but surely moving in the right direction,” says McGarvey. “All the clubs are doing massive amounts of work and they're all pushing.
“We've good players coming out of the U20s and a few of them are U20 still next year. The schools are strong, the clubs are getting there. I think we have a good future if we work hard enough at it.
“Winning the Christy Ring Cup would mean the world to us. At the end of the day this is our Liam MacCarthy Cup or our Sam Maguire, whatever you want to call it. For Derry hurling this is our All-Ireland. It's never been won before so it would mean the world to us.
“We're going there with that impression. We're not there to do the tour, we want to win the Christy Ring, there's no other way about it.”