Having inherited a tired squad at the start of the year, Rory Gallagher says his reworked Derry panel is now stronger and better equipped to beat Armagh than it would have been in the summer.
Gallagher admits he found managing dual players for the first time in his career a challenge but now has the players he wants and has the Slaughtneil contingent fresh and ready to do themselves justice in an Ulster SFC campaign.
Reflecting on past battles with Armagh boss Kieran McGeeney both as a player and manager, Gallagher also said he is using Derry’s poor record in Ulster as a motivating tool ahead of Sunday’s first round showdown in Celtic Park.
“That is something I’m looking to channel,” he said.
“A lot of the players haven’t won many Ulster championship matches and that at the end of the day is a huge sense of hurt on your pride and self-esteem because the Ulster Championship is very special and where you want to play.” Although they have had good runs in the back-door, Derry have only won one game (in 2015) since reaching the Ulster final in 2011.
“Runs in back-doors are grand,” added Gallagher, “but you want to win Ulster Championship matches and have that sense of achievement, so that is something we will focus on”.
“That is something we need to think about to put everything into this result.” Derry only took one point from their opening two league games which ultimately cost them promotion from Division Three.
But Gallagher used the enforced lay-off due to the pandemic constructively and gone are some of the old faces who served Derry well for many years.
He has got Enda Lynn and Padraig Cassidy fit, exciting new young players like Ethan Doherty and Paul McNeill have come in and they are in far better shape than they were in the spring.
“We used the time really well, I came in as an outside manager and it gave me time to get to know players,” Gallagher says.
Gallagher outfoxed McGeeney when he was in charge of Fermanagh in an Ulster championship clash in 2018, but like all the best competitors, he remembers the defeats more than the victories.
“The last time there was a straight knockout in championship in 2000 we marked each other in an Ulster semi-final at Clones and I certainly don’t feel I got the better of him, they beat us 0-13 to 0-12.
“From what I know of Kieran he won’t be too long bringing them back to earth and gaining promotion last weekend and focusing on ourselves.
“I see where he called us no-hopers but that’s not how we see ourselves.
“Armagh will give us a lot of respect because they know we have a lot of very good footballers.”