ULSTER CH’SHIP: Changing times as Derry boss targets Championship upset!
The 1993 All Ireland winner has never been one to hide his passion or commitment for the Oak Leaf cause. He believes commitment to the Derry jersey should be absolute. He believes in a certain type of attacking football. He believes every opponent should be met head-on in the Oak Leaf cause.
Or at least he did believe those things before accepting the chance to become Derry senior football manager.
Because management - especially inter-county management - has an inevitable way of making people compromise on their football ‘absolutes’.
“Football has changed an awful lot,” reflects Barton. “The perspective individual players have; my perception of what total commitment means is, perhaps, different from others. I think every county manager will say that same thing.
“We have had a few challenges but I think we’ve come through those challenges. We played two games last weekend and it was great players had a Derry jersey on their back and performed with distinction and heart.
“We are in a period of transition with a lot of younger players coming in and I see that as a development stage. That’s where we are. We are trying to mix the experienced players we have now with young players that want to come in and play.”
The Newbridge man remains an uncompromising figure but the trials and tribulations of his first six months have had an impact on his approach if not dampened his desire to take Derry back to the top.
“We are not going to ban colourful boots or anything,” he laughs. “No, everybody has their own way of preparing and I think you have to respect that things move on. Psychologists and all sorts of people have a different perspectives in terms of preparation and I know that’s something we have to look at in terms of how we prepare the team emotionally; that we are not going out to play the occasion, we are playing another team and that will be a challenge as well.
“It’s easy for me to be emotional and single minded and expect everybody else to be the same but it’s not like that. I’ve had to learn to step back a bit in terms of my motivation but certain players have their own ways of focusing
“Experience is valuable but what I have learned is sometimes you have to step back and keep your own emotions in check.
“How do we go into this game against Tyrone? It is another game Derry have to win. It’s a game when we are putting players into a position where we think they can win the game. We have systems, if you want to call them that, and we have to react to what the opposition is doing.
“What Brian (McGuckin) has been concentrating on in training is, ‘It is all about us’. At the end of the day we have to go and win the game and that’s our intention.”
After an encouraging McKenna Cup campaign, which was the kick of a ball away from ending in victory, Derry’s league form was less than impressive. The optimism of possible promotion never materialised after a miserable run of form following the break.
Defeats to Galway and Tyrone seemed to breed self doubt and, in the end, Derry were happy to retain their Division Two status. The league provided Barton and his assistant, former Tyrone player Brian McGuckin, with a early taste of both the highs and lows of county management.
“This is new to us so we had to reflect on every game. We had an average league campaign and that’s reflected by the fact that we averaged 2-12 for and 0-18 points against, so it averages itself out.
“Will we have learned from some of the experiences against Tyrone this season? Probably. We have used an awful lot of players. An inexperienced player - a very good player, but an inexperienced one - had he kicked the ball two streets away, we would have won the McKenna Cup in normal time.
“We have lost a few leaders, players of great experience, but I think the boys have coped with that reasonably well and we are now looking for a few more people to step up and that’s our expectation on Sunday.”
Yet, for all the truth of transitions and inexperience, Barton knows neither exist across the white line. Championship is only about winning and there is more than a little kidology when the Derry manager says he doesn’t know his best 15. His confidence in his players, however, is genuine.
“I don’t think we know what our best 15 is but the accepted wisdom is that it is good to hold something back. Not least to counter what the opposition brings on to the pitch. It has very much evolved into a 20/21 man game and, if players don’t come on and make an impact, it’s a bit of a waste of time.
“What’s the best? The best is the team we finish with and the result at the end of the game. We are going to go out with what we are confident with and finishing with what we are confident with. We believe that they will take us over the line.”