DEFIANT DERRY boss John Brennan has called on his 26 man squad to fill the vast void left by the injury to prolific marksman Eoin Bradley when they take to the field for Sunday’s Ulster SFC Final against Donegal in St Tiernach’s Park, Clones.
SIMON COLLINS reports
Despite the misfortune of losing Bradley seven days before Sunday’s decider, Brennan remains typically bullish and insists the Oak Leaf panel will defy all the odds and bring the Anglo Celt Cup back to the county for the first time since their 1998 victory over the Tir Conaill men.
Bradley, who registered 1-5 in the semi-final victory over Armagh last month, will be greatly missed. However, Brennan is adamant his squad possess enough ammunition within its ranks to gun down the county’s fierce rivals.
The only certainty in Brennan’s team selection for Sunday’s showpiece is the fact there will be at least one change to the full-forward line which provided a sensational return against the Orchard men on June 19th last. There are several viable attacking permutations for the enigmatic Lavey man to consider.
Caolan O’Boyle, who came on as a substitute against Armagh, could be deployed as a direct replacement for the Glenullin forward, while Ciaran McGoldrick could slot into the half-forward line, allowing James Kielt to occupy a more familiar full-forward starting berth alongside Enda Muldoon and Conleith Gilligan.
Meanwhile Kilrea defender Ciaran Mullan is expected to come into the starting 15 at the expense of Brian Og McAlary following his impressive showing from the bench in the semi-final. Former captain Gerard O’Kane is set to miss out in the final 26 man squad, the decider arriving too soon after his recovery from a clot in his leg.
Whoever gets the nod to fill the large attacking boots of Bradley, Brennan will be expecting them to deliver and show the same hunger for glory as he seeks to bridge the 13 year gap from the county’s last provincial victory.
And in his own unique way, the Derry boss will make sure they are fully aware of just how important the provincial decider is in the context of Derry’s continued well-being.
“Our year has been littered with a litany of misfortune,” said Brennan. “Start off with James Conway and I could draw a list but all I can do is manage the players who are fit on the day.
“It is unfortunate on the players who can’t partake but we have to look to the players that are fit, they are the ones I manage.
“I am tempted to think many things. We have a big team. It was said to me after the Armagh game I took off a 6’ 3’’ Enda Muldoon and put on a 6’ 6’’ Caolan O’Boyle. Liam (Hinphey) has attributes that have been referred to (man-marking) but is he fit for inter-county football after playing two club matches? Well, we will see. We had 26 very good players at Clones and it is up to the others to see if they can replace those players.”
The incentives for victory are immense for both sides and the enormity of the game is not lost on Brennan. The larger-than-life character, nicknamed ‘The Beast’, believes football is simple and he is utterly convinced Derry will defeat Donegal on Sunday.
His record stands up to scrutiny. He won seven county titles with five clubs in three different counties, so who’s to argue?
A lot has been made about Donegal’s defensive set-up but Brennan is only concerned about getting his tactics right.
“If you take a National League game on say a Saturday night in April and then think about the magnitude of this Sunday’s game in Clones, there is just no comparison,” said Brennan.
“Victory on Sunday would be a massive shot in the arm for football in our county and this is a huge incentive for the players.
“People call it scientific but Donegal have adopted an approach that suits their players. I have a system that suits Derry players.
“I always refer to the word ‘simple’ but you have to look at things and ascertain what is going on in a game and with your own team.
“Are we capable of countering what the opposition are doing? If you are, then let them make the changes. If we are winning why should we change to suit the opposition?
“Donegal have a system and it has worked. If it is working why change. I wouldn’t criticise their system. I know against Armagh we maybe put people into unfamiliar positions but I had a reason to do it and it worked.”
CONTINUED ON PAGE 78