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Derry eagerly await Dubs

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Alan Brogan. Picture: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Alan Brogan. Picture: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

Alan Brogan. Picture: Piaras O Midheach / SPORTSFILE

IF Jim Gavin found himself slipping towards the murk of self-pity this week over the cruciate misfortune which has beset Kevin O'Brien and now Ciarán Kilkenny, a quick natter with Brian McIver after Sunday's Allianz League Division 1 clash with Derry might recalibrate his perspective a touch.

McIver, the Derry manager, is currently dealing with four of them, a plague of ACL ruptures which outranks even the Dublin hurlers in their knee-busting pomp of a couple of years back.

"Our best wishes go to Ciarán Kilkenny," the Derry boss told the Herald. "It's a real, real problem for players. It seems to be becoming more and more the norm. We're just praying that after last year, that's the end of it. We don't require any more cruciate injuries for another twenty years.

"Even in the last 10 years, it's obvious that the medical people have made great strides in how to handle that particular injury. Unfortunately, they've had plenty of practice at it. But there is no simple way back from a cruciate injury. You simply have to do the rehab.

"The key is," he adds, "as Dublin are doing, not rushing players back, bringing them back by degrees."

Barry McGoldrick, Daniel Heavron, Raymond Wilkinson and PJ McCloskey are, according to McIver, "all at various stages" of their respective recuperations but none so far along in the toilsome process that they might play a part on Sunday when the Dubs arrive in Celtic Park in what will be just Dublin's fourth match outside the confines of Croke Park between League and Championship during Gavin's reign.

Currently, their record reads: Played 3, Won 2, Drawn 1. An indication, perhaps, that Gavin is as good as his word when he says he enjoys bringing his team away from Dublin 3.

FLOWING

"Dublin still have a number of their starting fifteen from last year that are making their way back," McIver, the former Donegal manager, points out. "They won last year playing really good flowing football and they have started this season doing the same.

"We know ourselves, you have Cork one Sunday and Dublin the next Sunday; two massive games in the space of a week. But sure, it's a great level of football to be playing at."

Yet Derry, to their eternal credit, have not embraced the role of the newly-promoted team, gaping in wonder at the bright lights of Division 1.

Thus far, they have drawn with Tyrone in a game in which they appeared to have lost twice over, beaten Kerry in Kerry, trampled all over their fellow promotion team Westmeath and came within a point of Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn last week.

That last result is all the more notable for the fact that, with 12 minutes gone, Derry trailed by 1-5 to no score and at the 20 minute mark, it was a no-less-discouraging, 2-7 to 0-3.

"In the second half, we played some really good football and we were probably very, very unlucky not to come out with something out of it in the end," McIver surmises.

"I thought we had a very good penalty claim. We had a good goal disallowed. I thought Cork got a very, very soft free for the last Colm O'Neill point. But whenever you fall about 11 points behind, there's no point in looking at referees. You have to look at your own performance."

Through the four games, they've scored seven goals, making them the second highest scorers in Division 1, just a point behind Mayo, and have averaged almost three points per game more than Dublin.

INFLUENCE

"We have been playing pretty good football," McIver reasons. "Everybody will probably look at the influence of the black card, that it has probably created more open football.

"Now, whether that continues as the year progresses, it's hard to say. But a lot of sides have been scoring very, very freely and maybe it is to do with the fact that no player wants to be taken out of the game. So psychologically, maybe there is a bit of influence.

"It's one of those situations where there may be more than one explanation for it. I have no doubt that Dublin's open, attacking style of play last year, a good percentage of the country would have looked at it and admired the way that they played.

"The introduction of the black card has maybe played on player's minds that this is the way to go. That football has become more of a shootout."

And, more specifically, a running game?

"I think that had maybe started before the introduction of the black card. But I think that the introduction of the black card has maybe made it more necessary to have that type of game.

"If you look at it in terms of the third man tackle, stepping across a man and stopping his run. In many ways, all you were doing was putting your body in the road. It has probably added to that flowing type of game."

"But listen," McIver concludes, "this is only March. We have three big, big games coming here in the League before we even turn our thoughts to Donegal on the 25th of May.

"So believe me, it's very competitive in Division 1. The standard of football, as I would read it, is absolutely top class this year."


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