It’s only five years since Derry reached the Division 1 final but now the Oak Leaf county find themselves facing the reality of life in the bottom tier.

Three successive relegations have been accompanied by a terrible run in the Ulster championship where they have failed to win a game since 2015.

With Tyrone, who knocked them out in 2016 and 2017, waiting in the preliminary round in May, focus naturally turns towards a bounce straight back up from Division 4 in order to build some momentum before facing Mickey Harte’s All-Ireland finalists.

"We have got ourselves into this situation so we have to go out each match and do what we need to," manager Damian McErlain told the Derry Journal. 

"Somebody has to been seen as favourites and we are the scalp in the division but again, that’s why it’s so much about ourselves and getting our own game right."

Damian McErlain

On paper it look like that the division is a three-horse race with Leitrim and Wexford, who were also relegated last season. McErlain’s men may target those two games but it would also be unwise to think that points will come easy against the rest, especially on the long road trips to Waterford and Limerick.

Sunday’s opponents Antrim, however, will also feel they are in with a decent shout, having finished third last season.

"Antrim will be gunning for promotion, Wexford are very strong, there are some very tough places to go in Division 4," said McErlain, now in his second year in charge. 

"There are some good footballing sides with good structures behind them.

"Division 4 is going to be tough and week in, week out, we are going to have to turn up and produce a performance but all we can think about is Antrim in the first game."

Derry must cope without erstwhile talisman Mark Lynch, who called time on his inter-county days last year. 

Sean Leo McGoldrick has also stepped away and James Kielt has opted out, while Liam McGoldrick is travelling and is not expected back until the latter stages of the league.

Former Under-20s players Callum Browne and Anton Tohill are in Australia hoping to emulate fellow county man Conor Glass in the AFL. 

The Derry team that played Tyrone just before Christmas 

Derry bookended their McKenna Cup campaign with defeats to Tyrone but saw progress over the course of four games in the competition, shipping just one goal from open play despite fielding an inexperienced side, many promoted from the Under-20s team.

"The boys who are getting opportunities are playing very well," McErlain said during the McKenna Cup campaign. 

"There are a number of new players in the defence and they are putting their hand up.

"They are working hard, playing for the team, playing for each other and that’s very positive, you cannot look at it any other way.

"We aren’t interested in headlines, we just want the boys improving week on week, night on night and that is what those young players are doing."

On another positive note, Derry will be able to count on the Slaughtneil contingent, who have been tied up with Ulster Club Championship for the early stages of the last four seasons.

Promotion is certainly within this team’s capability but there is no room for complacency.They start on the road with a trip to Corrigan Park before welcoming London to Owenbeg.

DIVISION 4 - TEAM GUIDE

ANTRIM

Last year’s finish: Third P6 W4 D1 L1

Manager: Lenny Harbinson

Player to watch: Opposition defences must keep tabs on sharpshooter Ryan Murray.

FIXTURES

27 January: Antrim v Derry
3 February: Wexford v Antrim
10 February: Leitrim v Antrim
24 February: Antrim v London
3 March: Waterford v Antrim 
16 March: Antrim v Wicklow
24 March: Limerick v Antrim 

LONDON

Last year’s finish: Fourth P7 W2 D1 L4

Manager: Ciaran Deely

Player to watch: Captain Liam Gavaghan can lead the Exiles' charge. 

FIXTURES

27 January: London v Limerick
3 February: Derry v London
10 February: London v Wexford
24 February: Antrim v London
3 March: Leitrim v London 
16 March: London v Waterford
24 March: Wicklow v London 

WATERFORD

Last year’s finish: Seventh P6 D1 L4

Manager: Benji Whelan

Player to watch: Former dual star Brian Looby is set to captain the team.

FIXTURES

26 January: Waterford v Wicklow
3 February: Limerick v Waterford
10 February: Waterford v Derry
24 February: Wexford v Waterford
3 March: Waterford v Antrim
16 March: London v Waterford
24 March: Leitrim v Waterford  

LEITRIM

Last year’s finish: Fifth P6 W2 L4

Manager: Terry Hyland

Player to watch: Emlyn Mulligan remains the star of the show.

FIXTURES

27 January: Leitrim v Wexford
3 February: Wicklow v Leitrim
10 February: Leitrim v Antrim
23 February: Limerick v Leitrim
3 March: Leitrim v London
16 March: Derry v Leitrim
24 March: Leitrim v Waterford

WEXFORD

Last year’s finish: Eighth in Division 4 P7 W1 L6

Manager: Paul McLoughlin

Player to watch: Jonathan Bealin, son of former Dublin player Paul, is in the ranks. 

FIXTURES

27 January: Leitrim v Wexford
3 February: Wexford v Antrim
10 February: London v Wexford
24 February: Wexford v Waterford
2 March: Wicklow v Wexford
16 March: Wexford v Limerick
24 March: Derry v Wexford

LIMERICK

Last year’s finish: Sixth P6 W1 D1 L4

Manager: Billy Lee

Player to watch: Lee will hope that he can get Iain Corbett up to full fitness for the campaign. 

FIXTURES

27 January: London v Limerick
3 February: Limerick v Waterford
10 February: Wicklow v Limerick
24 February: Limerick v Leitrim
3 March: Limerick v Derry
16 March: Wexford v Limerick
24 March: Limerick v Antrim

WICKLOW

Last year’s finish: Eighth P6 D2 L4

Manager: John Evans

Player to watch: New man Shane Mooney stood out in the O'Byrne Cup in defence. 

FIXTURES

26 January: Waterford v Wicklow
3 February: Wicklow v Leitrim
10 February: Wicklow v Limerick
24 February: Derry v Wicklow
2 March: Wicklow v Wexford
16 March: Antrim v Wicklow
24 March: Wicklow v London

DERRY

Last year’s finish: Seventh in Division 3 P7 W2 L5

Manager: Damian McErlain

Player to watch: Eoghan Concannon impressed in the McKenna Cup games.

FIXTURES

27 January: Antrim v Derry
3 February: Derry v London
10 February: Waterford v Derry
24 February: Derry v Wicklow
3 March: Limerick v Derry
16 March: Derry v Leitrim
24 March: Derry v Wexford

Follow all the Allianz League action this weekend with live blogs on RTÉ.ie and the News Now App, or listen live to Saturday Sport Extra and Sunday Sport on RTÉ Radio 1.

Watch highlights on Allianz League Sunday on RTÉ 2 television from 9.30pm.