Former Derry forward Conleith Gilligan is approaching his sides’ trip to Wexford Park this weekend full of optimism. Derry have only failed to come out on top once this season, their first round clash against rivals Tyrone, although a good performance was as much as the Derry men could have hoped for, “coming into the Tyrone game it was a case of, just how good could Derry be?”
“Could they set up defensively and restrict Tyrone, and I think they probably surpassed everybody’s expectations in running Tyrone so close for so long. At the same time everyone’s realistic, they know that Tyrone probably were complacent and a wee bit under par and maybe it’s not a true barometer but I think given the Tyrone performance, a game away to Wexford is a decent enough draw”.
Derry actually led their Tyrone counterparts heading into the final few minutes, before Tyrone demonstrated their true class in scoring a goal straight after going behind, “The big problem Derry had is that they probably never really expected to be in that position (in front). I think it was a case that they expected to be behind and then throw the kitchen sink at it, but I don’t think they expected to get in front in the way they did and perhaps they should have played for it a wee bit better, if we do get the lead and it’s late on what do we do?”
“The fact that 2 or 3 people went for the kick out and it broke behind and left a gap, that was the killer. But it is a very young Derry team and they will learn from that, they’ll have come away disappointed which is great from a Derry perspective where a moral victory would have been seen nearly as enough at that time. Derry will be disappointed that they didn’t get a wee bit closer near the end.”
Derry headed into that encounter full of momentum having captured the division four crown, going on an eight game unbeaten streak, a big part of this was having the Slaughtneil contingent throughout the winter months, “the fact that Slaughtneil didn’t go on a long run meant that all their players played in the league so there was a wee bit of continuity in their team play in that, while there were a few changes, the main bones of the team down the middle stayed very similar throughout the league and that gave a real settling effect. Obviously Emmet Bradley wasn’t fit to play against Tyrone and again he would have been a player that would have added a wee bit too that because he done really well when he came on”.
Derry and Wexford have crossed swords once already this year in the league, with the game producing perhaps the highest scoring games we’ll see this season, Derry coming out on top 3-21 to 4-16, however Gilligan doesn’t believe will see such an open game this weekend, but suggests it is still a possibility, “Derry had already qualified for the league final and they rested a number of players and Wexford were close enough to a very strong team”.
“I don’t expect a high scoring affair, I think Wexford will probably try to keep it a wee bit tighter, Derry have tightened up since but even given the league final Leitrim still scored heavily, Derry outscored them but through the league, Derry haven’t been able to keep teams to 10 or 11 or 12 points and they’ve conceded goals”.
“While Derry will want to keep it tighter it could be a lot more open, Wexford Park is a big wide pitch, not unlike Omagh, so there will be gaps. It’s very hard to close big grounds like that down so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was high scoring again. The first round qualifiers away from home, there’s a low percentage win rate regardless of the league so being away from home is always difficult, especially in first round qualifiers”
If Derry can overcome Wexford, Gilligan is fairly positive about where his side could end up later in the summer, “Ideally what Derry would need is another game, possibly a division three team and try and develop momentum. The one thing you don’t want is for Derry to draw one of the division one teams that had been knocked out in the next round”.
“If Derry could get a run maybe beating Wexford then get a division three side then carry the momentum and maybe get a big game later on in the qualifiers when they’ve really got momentum and learned a bit more about themselves. The closer they get to the super 8s the better, the super 8s is a number of years maybe too early for them but the way the qualifiers go, we could get a nice run and get the teams more at our level anything can happen”.