DERRY BOSS, John Brennan, was in no doubt as to the importance of tomorrow’s game in Croke Park where the ‘Oak Leaf County faces Kildare in an All-Ireland Qualifier. (Throw-in: 4.00 p.m.)
Seamus MULLAN reports
“It’s a massive, massive game for Derry,” was Brennan’s succinct description of the game against Kildare who, despite their provincial semi-final defeat to Dublin, remain many pundits’ favourites to be a significant player in this year’s All-Ireland competition.
The Derry fans, over 7,000 of them in the near 30,000 crowd, came away from Clones deeply disappointed and Derry full-back Kevin McGuckin summed up the mood of the Derry players when he stated: “We were definitely full of confidence going into the game and we fully expected to win it. It was a massive ‘gunk’ to be beaten in the final.”
However, Brennan was in positive mood and very much looking forward to the clash.
When asked if it had been difficult to lift the players after the Donegal defeat he answered: “It was a bad day for the players but we met up on Monday evening and had a good chat.
“Certainly nerves got to some of the players. Players who’d been in top form in the Armagh game, but some of them did not perform to the best of their ability. We were too long out on the pitch messing about before the game.
“Enda Muldoon had a groin problem before the start and we were worried that we might have to replace him. But we have to get over it and the response from the players on Monday evening was very positive,” added Brennan.
“We trained on Tuesday night at Swatragh as well and the session went even better than that before the Ulster Final. The pressure was off,” he insisted.
Croke Park a bonus?
When asked if the choice of Croke Park for the game had helped to raise the spirits of the players he responded: “Absolutely! Many of the players have never played there before, so this will be a great opportunity for them. The very thought of playing in Croke Park is a great boost. The response to the news was very positive.”
Derry were due to meet again last night, their third get-together since Clones, and the Derry boss will then assess the state of health of his players.
“We have a couple of niggles from the last day, nothing serious, and then we’ll decide on the team.”
Brennan is unlikely to make too many changes from the side that lost to Donegal last weekend but there are likely to be a couple of changes in personnel and, possibly, a little tinkering with the shape of the team.
Reflecting on the aspects of Derry’s performance in the Ulster Final that pleased him, and also those that disappointed, he went on: “I was reasonably happy with the full-back line, while Charlie Kielt did well in the half-back line. We lorded midfield for 60 per cent of the game.
“The game-plan was to get the ball quickly inside, but we didn’t stick to the plan. We carried the ball too much into the tackle and that allowed them to regroup in defence.
“Still I was reasonably happy at half-time, level at 0-05 each, although we missed three scoring chances before the break that would have given us some kind of cushion. We came back well after Martin Donaghy came on, but there was a lot of cynical fouling going on,” he noted.
However, Derry now have to put that disappointment behind them and give it a real lash in Croke Park.
Every player will now have to go out and give everything for the cause, in a no holds barred display of determination and passion.
That Kildare struggled for long periods to see off Meath in their last game and needed the scoring intervention of wing-back, Emmet Bolton, with a 1-02 burst to turn the game late on, will give Derry hope.
There is also the thought that only victory will allow Derry another game, and also the possibility that this could be the last Championship game for a number of players unless they defeat the “Lily Whites.”
This will only be the third time the counties have met in the history of the All-Ireland Championship qualifiers.
When they met for an historic first Championship meeting at Celtic Park in July, 2006, Derry ran out comfortable winners 1-17 to 0-11. That defeat was the only time the Kildare lost a ‘back door’ game against an Ulster side.
However, they avenged that defeat in July last year when they returned to Celtic Park, the ‘Lily Whites’ reversed the score in the 2-17 to 1-09 defeat of Derry.
But Brennan was upbeat about the weekend: “I’m very positive about the Kildare game. They will have much the same personnel as in the game in Newbridge. They are a very physical team and they are on a roll.
“We will be massive underdogs but that will suit us. We will not be intimidated. We faced up to that challenge that day in Newbridge in the League and we won.
“The pressure of the occasion got to some of the players the last day. There will not be the same pressure against Kildare. It will not be as big an occasion. There will be more space in Croke Park and I expect Derry to give a very good account of themselves.”