Derry’s Brendan Rogers: ‘From the outset this year, we wanted to win the league’

The Derry midfielder talks up the importance of Sunday’s Division One showdown against Dublin

When tiptoeing around the question of how exactly Derry are approaching Sunday’s Allianz Football League final, Brendan Rogers can’t deny the fact he already has another date in his head. Same as he does every year.

Because win or lose against Dublin in Croke Park on Sunday – and Rogers presents a strong case for why Derry will be relishing this contest – all thoughts afterwards will quickly turn to April 20th, when Derry host Donegal in the Ulster football championship, and Rogers celebrates his 30th birthday.

That neat coincidence aside, the immediate task of taking on the All-Ireland champions is what’s foremost in his mind for now. Dublin beat them comfortably back in round five, when Derry manager Mickey Harte rested several first-choice players, and Dublin also prevailed when the counties met in the Division Two final in Croke Park this time last year.

Dublin are also coming in fresh from their 21-point win over Tyrone last Sunday, a tally that included five goals, enough to ensure Derry better arrive on their toes.


“Dublin are probably the most in-form team in the league,” says Rogers. “Certainly that was a convincing result against Tyrone, though ultimately when you look at the team Tyrone put out, they were missing key players. Would that have changed the outcome? Probably not, but it might have changed the manner in which it ended.

“We can only learn from how we performed against Dublin, and what we need to do to improve on Sunday, make it a bit more competitive. We’ve been introducing new players [Derry have used 27 in the league so far], a lot of them got exposure against Dublin. So we have found players, have been expanding the panel.”

Derry led Dublin at half-time in last year’s final, which took place three weeks before they faced Fermanagh in the Ulster championship, but the game swung firmly in Dublin’s favour once Conor Glass went off injured.

“Last year, for the league final, we probably were keeping one eye on the championship, were a wee bit sloppy in defence,” Rogers concedes. “We were also at a different level last year, our team and camp, maybe trying to get a hold of how we were handling ourselves on a consistent basis at the top level. And we felt we had to prove ourselves at championship level, so that maybe was our focus.

“From the outset this year, we said we wanted to win the McKenna Cup, wanted to win the league. That ultimately means we want to win the league final, so there is that shift in perspective in where we are as a team.”

Rogers credits Harte and Gavin Devlin for that, Harte unwavering in his desire to win every competition he enters: “We were fortunate enough that we were already at a decent level when they came in. Obviously, they have a never-ending desire to win, but also that ability to get guys to express themselves, and trying to make the most out of the forward unit.”

Rogers and Glass are unquestionably getting the most out of themselves as Derry’s midfield unit too: “He’s just an open person to talk to, communicate with, very clear on instruction,” says Rogers of Glass. “So when we’re working with each other on the pitch, you generally know quite quickly what the other is doing, and I suppose that’s comfortable, for the both of us. Which makes carrying out any job any simpler. There’s no ego with him, he gets on with everyone on the team.”

When Derry last contested the Division One final in 2014, when they were beaten by Dublin, Rogers was just breaking into the Slaughtneil senior team. A year later he was called in with Derry, but the team’s fortunes declined, and by 2019 they were playing in Division Four.

“I suppose some people were saying Derry should never have been in Division Four, but that’s where we were on merit. Did I think in that moment in time we’d be here again? Probably not. But when Rory Gallagher came in, we probably realised we could, if we followed the steps and put the work in. It’s hard to believe it’s changed so quickly.

“What made it difficult was Slaughtneil had a few good campaigns, so we would miss a fair chunk of the league. But I came in the following year, after 2014, and yeah, it was the start of the decline, makes me sound like a bad omen.”

He’s clearly not that. When Derry last beat Dublin, in round five of last year’s league, it was Rogers who hit the winning point. He’d take that again on Sunday.