DERRY GAA: Derry will have to Erne safety in Brewster Park
After one win is six league games, the biggest surprise is Derry still have a fighting chance of retaining their Division Two status.
The league format can be a lottery at times - ask Cork who were relegated from Division One last season despite finishing on the same number of points as Donegal who qualified for the semi-finals - but Derry won’t need any calculators in Brewster Park this Sunday (2pm).
The mission is clear: defeat Fermanagh and hope Cork beat down in Páirc Uí Rinn.
The second part of the equation looks more clear cut than the first at present. With Colm O’Neill in the sort of form that yielded 0-9 against Meath and 0-11 against Derry, the Mourne victory that would relegate the Oak Leafers would be a huge shock.
If that game plays to form, it leaves Derry and the Erne county in a sudden death shoot-out with no real prize for the winner and the loser facing third tier football in 2018.
The strange things is most pundits will make Derry favourites despite Pete McGrath’s team having won two games this season to Derry’s one.
Dery have also conceded 126 points in their six games to Fermanagh’s 106. While the mission is clear for Damian Barton and his team, the task is anything but straightforward as the New bridge man admitted.
“Next week is winner takes all,” explained Barton after Sunday’s four point defeat, “At the end of the day we have to go to a very difficult assignment in Enniskillen and get something out the game, and that’s our ambition this week. How we respond is probably a measure of character. “Character is a word that is bandied about quite a bit. I’m certainly positive that we’ll go and play to the best of our ability and if I can’t be positive, I can’t expect the boys to be.
“An awful lot has been said. I think there is a period of transition. It’s a very cruel environment to learn your trade.”
The Derry manager acknowledged that defending has been the problem all season with Derry conceding 20 point for the second week running.
“The defence is key but at the end of the day, it’s an irresistible force that comes from the opposition’s half-back line sometimes. If they can get in behind you, especially if they are athletically fit enough to do that, it’s a very hard thing to resist.
“You expect your six defenders to mark as best they can. That’s their role – man to man. They scored an awful lot down our right side in the first half in particular and they looped around quite well but it’s a worry.
“The boys that came in from Slaughtneil actually gave us a bit of stability. I think they were good which was a positive but it still wasn’t enough. We are shipping too much and I keep going back to the physicality. It wouldn’t take a genius to compare the physicality of them to us.
“They’re a bit more seasoned than us as well. There was a bit of gamesmanship going on out there. I thought Enda Lynn was hugged quite a bit in the second half, even for our kick-outs which was quite bizarre. It was tolerated by the officials and I’m not being critical of them – Cork beat us fairly and squarely. We can’t ship 20 points and expect to get anything out of a game. As I say, if you score 2-10 you should be winning games like that.”
There were some positives. As the Derry manager alluded to, Derry are registering decent tallies which should be winning games. Danny Tallon hit 2-01 and is looking a more accomplished senior county player with every game.
The return to action of the Slaughtneil contingent may just be what gets Derry over the line next week and Padraig Cassidy - who showed glimpses of what he is capable of - will prove a major asset to the Oak Leafers.
It comes down to defending. Not individual defending but collective organisation.
Derry have the ability to get the scores that will win them the game. Whether they can limit Fermanagh’s impact at the other end is what is in doubt.