RTÉ GAA analyst Enda McGinley will not be surprised if Derry's performance levels dip in the All-Ireland round-robin stages given the energy they have expended throughout the entire 2023 campaign to date.
From their opening Dr McKenna Cup game against Fermanagh on 8 January, featuring 12 starters who would also line out in the Ulster decider, the Oakleaf County have brought massive intensity to every fixture, losing just once in 15 games – the Division 2 final to Dublin – as they lifted the Ulster championship, Dr McKenna Cup and earned promotion back to the top tier where they last played in 2015.
Competition number four of the season begins on Saturday night as they welcome Monaghan to Celtic Park in their opening Group 4 fixture, and three-time Tyrone All-Ireland winner expects to see the battery light start to flash.
"It’s not just Ulster championship, they were going hard at the McKenna Cup stage. During the National League they were right at the tip," he told the RTÉ GAA Podcast.
"My view on that Celtic Park game against Dublin was Dublin had at least two more gears. You just know as big players having come through big games, there’s only certain things that has you [having] that wee bit of nervous anxiety all week coming into it.
"No matter what, Dublin players were not in that place for that match against Derry in Celtic Park. Derry were, you could sense the supporters, you could sense everything.
"They pushed on, got promotion, they showed no let up at all, so they have been at that ceiling the whole time, which has been remarkable. Their consistency has been phenomenal.
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"Through the Ulster championship, they wanted to do that back-to-back. You could sense that coming out from them.
"This is now restart again. Three games here again to get out of the group, and they will get out of the group.
"Do they dip? We even saw it with Kerry last week [against Mayo], these top teams whenever they’re at 100% they can be phenomenal. Whenever they’re at 95 or 90, it’s a completely different thing.
"Derry have been so consistent, we haven’t seen Derry at 95 or 90 and I struggle to see how they’ll get up to 100.
"If they do, fair play to them, that’s amazing but I think this is the game where they might just not be as sharp as they have been."
Rory Gallagher was in charge when Derry eased to a 1-21 to 2-10 Ulster semi-final win in April, and McGinley believes new boss Ciaran Meenagh must deal with the expectation of last month's comfortable result.
"Derry, obviously they had the boost of winning that Ulster title in such a fantastic game, a dramatic ending and everything that surrounded that game coming into it.
"Now they’ve dealt with moving on with reality, so it’s coming down from that Ulster title win and coming into a game that they absolutely should win.
"They beat Monaghan convincingly the last day out in Healy Park so this should be done and dusted in Celtic Park.
"Can they get up for it in the same level? Can they cope with managerial change that they're going to have? That’s going to be a very different environment that they have been operating in. Plenty of leading players there to take on the leadership role but until you start seeing it, you don’t really know how everything is going to be coming together."
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Derry swatted Monaghan aside in their Ulster championship semi-final
McGinley also feels that for Monaghan to have a chance of a surprise win, they must follow the Armagh blueprint that came agonisingly close to securing a first Ulster title in 15 years before losing out to Derry on penalties. However, he isn’t sure if the Oriel County have the legs to follow that particular plan.
"For Monaghan, they would have been massively disappointed with how they played in Healy Park. They didn’t lay a glove on Derry.
"Derry dictated the complete terms of the game, you’d Conor McManus and Jack McCarron spending more time trying to defend, completely out of their comfort zone.
"Derry targeted their runners and their older legs. You can’t suddenly unwind the miles off the clock, so what way Vinny Corey approaches this game, how can he try to put the pressure on Derry – we saw what Armagh done and I thought it was highly effective, but it’s a massive high energy game.
"Do Monaghan have that, because I think that’s what they’re going to have to bring in Celtic Park."
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