City of Derry coach Richard McCarter wants his side to set the tone for their All Ireland League Division 2B campaign by securing an opening day victory against Skerries at Judges Road on Saturday (k.o. 2.30pm).
Derry go into the game off the back of three defeats to Ulster rivals Ballymena, Belfast Harelquins and Banbridge last Saturday but will welcome back winger William McCleery and scrum-half Ben Barbour this weekend.
Despite those early season Ulster League and Senior Cup defeats, McCarter believes his side can build a positive AIL campaign but said it was crucial to make a positive start.
“A good start is crucial in the All Ireland League,” explained McCarter, “Teams tends to target their home games and the fact we start with a home game is great for us to try and get some momentum built up. We want to see a good crowd out and try to get them right behind us.
“We want to instil a winning mentality into the squad because the flip side of things is that should you pick up a few defeats, then it suddenly becomes a very long season.
“The league won’t be won or lost in the first game but if you get off to a good start it can set the tone for what follows and we have the talent to get that win.”
The Derry coach admitted preparations for the AIL have been far from ideal following a tumultuous close season in which the Judges Road club lost a number of senior players but said the signs have been good in training this week.
“Training has been excellent all week, it is probably the best I have seen the boys all summer,2 he added.
“There was a lot more communication and some of the things we have been trying to do with the players are definitely starting to sink in. We had a good season on Tuesday and hopefully we can carry that intensity into this weekend.
“To be honest, I know next to nothing about Skerries. I know they were relegated last year and we are expecting them to be pretty strong. They will probably be targeting a immediate return to 2A but, again, we want to concentrate on ourselves and our own performance. We have to play the way we know we can.
“It works both ways. They won’t know too much about us. If they are basing their ideas on last year, they will be expecting a tough game but I won’t be too disappointed if they have seen our results over the past few weeks because obviously there have been those three defeats and it might mean they underestimate us.”
Even in the wake of last week’s 45-point defeat to Banbridge, McCarter says the focus has never shifted from Skerries.
“It wasn’t difficult to lift the boys (after last Saturday). We had all week to get that Banbridge result our of our system.
“We said at Tuesday night at training that the last three weeks have only been about preparing for the All Ireland League and Skerries this weekend. They don’t really matter a damn to be honest, it was preparation.
“If we get a win this weekend, we won’t be worried about those earlier results and the boys are looking forward to Saturday. The atmosphere has been excellent in training and the players have been working very hard so hopefully we come out all guns blazing.”