Brendan Rogers: ‘You’ll only become the best when you play with the best and against the best’

Brendan Rogers insists he’s not downbeat about the numbers who’ve walked away from Derry this year.

The commitment given to club and county by the in-demand dual player is in stark contrast to the lack of interest others have shown in pulling on an Oak Leaf jersey in 2017.

Around a dozen players will be absent when they host Tyrone in Sunday’s Ulster SFC clash in Celtic Park, a repeat of last year’s fixture which they lost by 11 points.

A couple are injured, but most have chosen to make themselves unavailable, yet Rogers says a win isn’t about proving a point to the missing men.

“It’ll not dishearten me.

“You can have your reasons to play and not to play.

“I wouldn’t be one to force somebody into doing something they don’t want to do. With family commitments and jobs and all those other things maybe it doesn’t suit some people. It is a lot of commitment to make it to training three or four nights a week and maybe get your gym sessions done in between and recover and be fresh for the next week.

“If you don’t have the time to do that then maybe you’re best not wasting your own and other people’s time.”

Rogers and Slaughtneil team-mates Chrissy and Karl McKaigue came straight back into the Derry fold after the shattering All-Ireland Club loss to Dr Crokes on St Patrick’s Day.

They tightened up a leaking defence and they didn’t concede a goal in the last two league games (though they were still relegated from Division Two).

Rogers has even been in with the Derry hurlers in recent weeks, scoring three goals off the bench in last week’s Nicky Rackard Cup semi-final win over Monaghan.

Adjusting to intercounty life again after such a crushing blow on March 17twas tough but he’s quick to add: “It was also nice to be seen as needed.”

“It was about trying to give boys a lift. We weren’t successful in all the games but we did have a bit more of a collective team performance.

“You feel it warranted coming back so early and it took away the thought of the All-Ireland. You were glad to get back out playing again.”

Rogers would like Derry to show off their best side on Sunday — something that’s been rendered impossible by the withdrawals.

He is trying to take positives from the new additions. Goalkeeper Ben McKinless and corner back Niall Keenan are expected to make their championship debuts.

“It would be nice to see some of the guys who stepped away coming back because you’ll only become the best when you play with the best and against the best.

“You can see both sides of the argument. I can only see it as an opportunity to step up and try and fill a void that has been left.

“People aren’t around forever and others have to step up and this is the opportunity to take. You can only make do with what you have but it would be nice to represent ourselves as best as we can and do ourselves justice because there is a performance in us that can beat most teams in Ireland. Hopefully we can make it count.”

Rogers doesn’t think supporters believe the Derry v Tyrone rivalry is an intense as it once was. But for the players, it’s a different story.

“I’d say a lot of supporters have already concluded how this game is going to go. Player-wise it’s a game you don’t want to miss and a game you’re going to be up for. If you can’t get yourself prepared for a Derry-Tyrone game you’d nearly be better calling it a day.”

Honest to a fault, Rogers holds his hands up over one of the Tyrone goals in last year’s 3-14 to 0-12 defeat.

The Derry fans aren’t expected to travel in big numbers to support their county on Sunday but some of those who do will be fearing a similar scenario. Not Rogers.

“The first half was very tight last year. We made two errors in five minutes and conceded two goals. Up until that point I think we might have been a point up but they got two goals and maybe tagged on a couple of frees to go in ahead at half-time.

“It just shows you how five minutes can effect a game. It was just two mistakes, I was responsible for one of them.

“I gave away a ball and two kick-passes later it was in the back of the net (by Ronan O’Neill). Hopefully we can minimise mistakes and show we’re better than that.”


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