Doherty return key to Oak Leaf renaissance, insists young gun McFaul
Derry's footballers are already this year's surprise package as they contest a Division 1 semi-final tomorrow in their first season back in the top flight.
But their young half-forward Ciaran McFaul (20) insists they are conscious that the season remains a marathon, not a sprint.
"A lot of people are saying Derry are peaking too early but we realise the league is a bonus and we have our eyes on the championship and Donegal as well," he stressed.
McFaul was only 18 when he got the call-up into the senior squad in January 2013. He hails from the same club as Enda Gormley – Watty Graham's of Maghera, known locally as 'Glen' – and had just captained them to successive provincial club minor titles.
"Brian (McIver) called me in last year after the Ulster minor championship final, there was no rest, it was straight into the senior panel and it was a big shock," he confessed.
Just two weeks later he was given his senior debut, against UUJ in the McKenna Cup, and scored 1-1. In 2012 he scored a point off the bench as Derry beat Westmeath in the Division 2 final.
He returns to Croke Park as a regular in a half-forward line that includes top-scorers Mark Lynch (2-37, 23fs) and Enda Lynn (3-14).
Like fellow U-21s Conor McAtamney, Ryan Bell and Gareth McKinless, McFaul is part of the new blood that McIver has blended so successfully with Derry's veterans to give the Oak Leafers a new lease of life, fuelling their renaissance.
McFaul feels that getting Fergal Doherty to rejoin the panel has also been pivotal, not least as it has released Lynch to his preferred forward role and the top of his game. Doherty and Lynch, Dermot McBride and Patsy Bradley were McFaul's childhood heroes.
"I never thought I'd be playing with Fergal because he stopped there for about four years and then had an operation on his hip and came back this year," he said.
"The boost he gave the squad is unbelievable and he's probably in the shape of his life."
Derry played their second string against Mayo last week but, after that bit of shadow-boxing, both sides have wheeled out their big guns now and accept this is going to be a very different game.
"Mayo are one of the top teams in the country, they've the experience of playing in Croke Park in All-Ireland finals and semi-finals and quarter-finals. We've never had that experience but it could swing both ways," said McFaul.
"Brian says you want to be playing in Croke Park week in, week out. Every game there is a bonus for us and it's the best preparation we can get for the championship."