Talisman Doherty desperate to make up for lost time
Fergal Doherty has more reason than most to want to see Derry conquer Dublin in tomorrow's Allianz Football League final.
Since his sending-off in the semi-final win over Mayo, Doherty has been profuse in his apologies to the management and team-mates.
And now he sees tomorrow's game as the perfect opportunity to underline his value to the team after a decade of lion-hearted service, even though manager Brian McIver feels he was hard done by when he was shown a red card a fortnight ago.
Having earlier incurred a yellow card, Doherty was skating on thin ice when he collided with Mayo's Aidan O'Shea, prompting the second yellow – and a red.
Now, however, 33-year-old Doherty is ready to deploy his vast experience in striving to bring another league crown to his county.
It was the single-minded McIver who resurrected Doherty's career when he invited him back into his panel towards the end of last year and since then the rejuvenated midfield ace has more than repaid his manager's faith.
"Fergal has been an important player for Derry in the past, a player renowned not just for his playing ability, but also for his leadership," says McIver.
Full-back Chrissy McKaigue goes so far as to suggest that the lion-hearted Dohery, a Portglenone publican, "defines our team."
"Fergal is the kind of man you need at your side in the heat of battle and it's terrific that he will be in there," McKaigue adds.
There was widespread shock when Doherty slipped into the shadows three years ago following the arrival of John Brennan in the hot-seat.
His last game for his county prior to his involvement in the O'Fiaich Cup in December was a substitute appearance against Carlow in the first round of the 2010 qualifiers, while injury kept him out of the subsequent games against Westmeath and Kildare.
Doherty is still recognised as one of the finest midfielders in Ulster and during his inter-county exile was still producing the goods for his club, Bellaghy Wolfe Tones.
His return to the Derry colours has coincided with their most successful stint in the league since they last won the competition by defeating Kerry in the 2008 final – and on that occasion Doherty was man of the match.
Over the course of the league, Doherty has been one of Derry's most consistent players. Like the vast majority of the regulars he was rested for the drawn game against Mayo and, during the win over Kildare, picked up a head injury after just five minutes.
In all other games, he proved an inspirational figure.
"Fergal brings experience and power to our side. He has played a big part in the league to date and we would hope that he will have a major role to play against Dublin. He can certainly rise to the occasion," states McIver.
And the Derry boss will hope that Doherty takes his last sentiment literally.
Derry certainly face a big battle to win midfield possession against a Dublin side in which Michael Darragh Macauley has been a powerful force.
McIver will look to Doherty and his midfield partner Patsy Bradley to stamp their imprint on a game which will not only determine who is crowned league champions but just who can be regarded as genuine contenders for the Sam Maguire Cup.
And it's just as well that Doherty is a graduate of the school of hard knocks – both giving and taking them, that is.
There will be a marked physical dimension to tomorrow's contest.
Derry will undoubtedly face a forensic examination of their talents, but they are richly talented, generously endowed with self-belief and aware that the opportunity to make a formidable declaration of intent now presents itself.
The fiercely committed Doherty, a man on a mission, personifies Derry's raging thirst for a rare helping of meaningful silverware.