Derry down to bare bones for McKenna Cup decider

MARK LYNCH and Michael Drumm have both been ruled out of tomorrow night’s Dr. McKenna Cup final against Tyrone, leaving Derry manager, John Brennan facing a possible player shortage (Armagh, 7.00pm).

MICHAEL WILSON reports

Brennan and his Oak Leaf management team were last night awaiting a decision from the Ulster Council as to whether they could call on players not named in his initial McKenna Cup panel back in December.

A refusal could see Brennan forced to work with only 20 players as he contends with a hectic early season fixture schedule and a lengthening injury list.

Next Wednesday’s Ulster Under-21 Championship opener against Armagh at Celtic Park further complicates the equation as does this weekend’s Sigerson action which will see Brennan lose the services of Niall Holly to Jordanstown.

The McKenna final will be Derry’s eighth game in only nine weeks and after last week’s tired performance against Laois, the Lavey man admitted the schedule is asking a lot of his players.

“We’ve reverted back to the McKenna panel but we submitted that some time ago and a lot of things have changed since December. We’re still awaiting confirmation of whether we can add players to that original panel,” explained the Derry manager.

“The final will be our eighth game in nine weeks and it is taking its toll on the players. The Sigerson is on this weekend so we are missing players there as well as trying to safeguard the under-21 players ahead of next week’s Ulster Championship, so we are not sure what sort of panel we are going to be working off.

“To an extent we have been victims of our own success in the McKenna Cup and the two extra games are not ideal. Remember a lot of these players have not played much competitive football - even with their clubs - since September and we suddenly ask them to play eight inter-county games in just nine weeks. That’s a lot to ask.

“There’s no doubt we were mentally as well as physically tired against Laois. To be honest a rest may have done us more good this weekend but these things are not in our control and we have to get on with it.

“Don’t get me wrong we are looking forward to the game. It’s a cup final and it would be nice to get a bit of silverware. Tyrone has had plenty of silverware down the years but Derry could do with winning something.”

Eoin Bradley is one player who will be waiting on the Ulster Council’s ruling to discover if he is available. The loss of Lynch, who was badly missed against Laois, could open the door for Bradley’s first start of the season as he continues to build fitness following his 24-week suspension.

The game will be the second meeting of the ‘old enemies’ this season after Derry’s impressive one-point victory in the Allianz League opener at the beginning of February.

Despite his concerns over player availability and the Ulster Council’s strange decision to stick by the Athletic Grounds as the venue, Brennan said his players were looking forward to the chance to put the Laois defeat behind them.

“I would put the Laois performance down to tiredness, no doubt. That schedule and the pre-season training seemed to catch up with almost everyone on the same day. Laois were much fresher than us.

“Some players on the periphery will get their chance and it is up to them to take it. These players have to prove themselves. Had the game been played when it was originally scheduled we certainly would have been in a stronger position but I don’t want to make excuses. Things are as they are and we have to deal with it.

“Tyrone are a very good team and the last game against them was very exciting in front of 5,000 people. We had 1,000 at Celtic Park last week for the Laois game which shows the interest generated by a Derry/Tyrone match.

“Tyrone had a bad 50 minutes against Donegal recently and that was enough to beat them but we had a bad 70 minutes against Laois. They have had the chance to bounce back and taken it which is what we’ll be hoping to do this weekend and claim some silverware at the same time.”