JOHN Brennan is hoping to see an improved performance from referee Michael Duffy as well as his own players when Derry take on Longford tomorrow evening in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park. (Throw-in 7pm).
Michael Wilson reports
The All Ireland Qualifying Round Two tie could mark Derry’s first step on the road to recovery following the 10-point mauling by Ulster Champions Donegal in Ballybofey two weeks ago. However the Lavey man admitted he was concerned following the appointment of the Sligo official who was widely criticised for his handling of last weekend’s Ulster semi-final between Down and Monaghan in Armagh.
Brennan, who this week saw Gerard O’Kane become the latest player ruled out with injury, is expecting a close game and claimed it may only take one bad decision to swing a game.
“It is going to be a very tough game but the one thing I am wary of ahead of this game is the referee,” conceded the Derry manager.
“We had Martin Duffy refereeing down in Ballybofey and now we have his brother Michael who has been very heavily criticised for his handling of last week’s semi-final between Down and Monaghan. In a tight game a couple of decisions can take a game away from you and I just hope he has a better game than last weekend. This is the sort of game which could hang on a referee’s decision.”
Despite his reservations Brennan claimed it is now up to the Derry players to put the memory of Donegal firmly behind them.
“The mood in the camp is very good considering. The Donegal defeat was a real downer and we all accept - the management and the players - that what was on display in Ballybofey was simply not good enough.
“We had inexperienced players in last year’s Ulster Final but the thing was we lost a number of our more experienced players after that game so in Ballybofey we had a number of players experiencing things like the parade before the game for the first time and it looked like they froze. The occasion seemed to get to certain players.
“But that’s been the story of our season so far though there has been an element of bad luck. No county would have wanted to go to Donegal in the first round of the Ulster Championship against Donegal. They also had the advantage of having already played a Championship game against Cavan. I would loved to have had a game against one of the so-called lesser sides under our belts before taking on Donegal. And now we have one of the most difficult draws in the Qualifiers but it up to us how we react.”
Having home advantage for the Qualifier is certainly a boost for Longford who are seeking to recover from a disappointment of their own, a devastating single point defeat against Wexford in the Leinster Championship quarter-final replay when they somehow managed to let victory slip from their grasp despite dominating,
That was a major blow but Glenn Ryan’s side are a team on the rise after a magnificent ten-game unbeaten run laid the foundations for Longford’s promotion to Division Two where they will meet Derry next season.
“Longford are a good side, very strong around the midfield sector with dangerous players in both the half-backs and half forwards. From what I know they are a fast running team. They have played three Championships games so far this season which is a great help and have already achieved promotion so they are on a bit of a roll, something of a winning streak.
“They were very unlucky against Wexford but that gives them a point to prove. We need to put them under pressure and see how they react. I’m confident if we can put together the sort of display our players are capable of we will be okay. We know what has gone before has not been acceptable.”
Longford this season have looked to key defenders Michael Quinn and Barry Gilleran though it is the midfield pairing of Bernard McElvaney and John Keegan which has provided the basis for successive promotion seasons.
Chief marksmen Paul Barden, Brian Kavanagh and Sean McCormack will pose a threat if they receive a proper supply of ball but Derry can once again expect their opponents to employ a packed defence with a willingness to break at speed.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the third in the All-Ireland Qualifiers with the score standing at one win apiece. Longford emerged victorious against the odds in 2006 but Derry were the superior side when the counties also clashed at Pearse Park back in 2002. In that second round tie, the visitors came out on top with 10 points to spare at the final whistle, 2-13 to 0-9, after the Midlanders sprang a surprise in the opening round to beat Down 1-16 to 0-14.
Derry went into both those previous encounters as heavy favourites but the tables have since turned and the Derry manager believes his players must prepare to dig deep if they hope to answer their critics.
“The players have to realise they need to battle for any result, you can’t expect to control the full 70 minutes of any game. Those bad patches you get in a game are when you need your big personalities to come to the fore and in Ballybofey we didn’t have those, we seemed to surrender and accept what was happening. We need the leaders to stand up now, we need to be prepared to battle.”