Banagher earn Championship Bonus!

BANAGHER boss Eamon Lynch admitted his team must tighten up defensively but backed his players to build on Sunday’s thrilling Senior Championship victory over Steelstown in Glenullin.

Michael Wilson reports

The St. Mary’s scored four excellent goals against the normally defensively sound city side but it was the number of scores conceded which the Banagher was most concern with in the aftermath of the 4-9 to 2-11 win.

“There were a lot of scores conceded, yes, but we have worked hard our defence,” explained Lynch, “Myself, George and ‘Honda’ only came in something like six weeks ago. The 10 league games before we came in, I think we were averaging 17 points conceded per match. We managed to cut that to 12 in the last five league games but it is something we are very conscious of, that we are leaking at the back but we will work on it.

“Against Steelstown we leaked more than we wanted to. We were back to what was our average, 17 points, which we will be disappointed with but we will continue to work at it.”

The Banagher manager said the Championship is something of a bonus for his players after they had flirted with relegation for most of the league season. Even in Sunday’s game, Banagher threw away a three point half-time lead to trail by five points with 15 minutes to go before late goals from Micheal Anderson and Shane Farren - his second of the game - carried them to victory.

“It is all about keeping the hard work going now. When we came into the role a few weeks ago, to be honest, the focus was avoiding relegation and staying out of trouble. We’ve done that, so that is behind us, and the Championship is a bit of an adventure.

“We have got players with the talent to go a long way in it. I don’t think they were as fit as we would have liked them to be when we came in so we are maybe starting behind other teams but I would be confident we could give anyone a game on our day.

“In midfield, when you have PJ McCloskey and Mark Lynch, that’s two of the best players in the county. PJ is arguably the best midfielder in Derry at the minute. Mark is maybe not an out and out midfielder but he gives you so much work from out there. We struggled maybe more in the second half in midfield because of his injury. We lost our ground in that area a bit but we knew Steelstown are an incredibly fit, mobile team.

“Our lads maybe have a few more miles on the clock. There are a few on the wrong side of 30 and mobile teams can potentially give us a bit of difficulty but the players are working very hard and it was just about being organised and getting over the line at the finish.”

The only black spot in Sunday’s morale-boosting win were injuries to influential pairing of Mark Lynch and Padhraic Murphy. Both players finished the game but will now face a race to be ready for the next game.

“It was a hard fought win. We made life very difficult for ourselves in the second half. We started it poorly. We had a couple of knocks before half-time, Mark Lynch had a bad back and was struggling to move, Padhraic Murphy picked up a nasty injury on his ‘A’ joint but they both battled through and helped us get there in the end.

Lynch revealed his side had a specific game plan which they hoped would bring goals against the Brian Ogs.

“Our goal before half-time was very important. If you look at the scoreline, 4-09 to 2-11, the goals made the difference. We knew going in at half-time if we ran at them we had the taking of their defence, it was just a matter of putting them under pressure rather than simply kicking possession away. We wanted to run at them and in players like Mark Lynch, PJ McCloskey and Paul Cartin, we had the players to run at them and cause problems. We wanted to make them commit and leave the spaces that would maybe open them up for goals.

“We knew that was the plan, we scored four, so I suppose we are happy enough that it worked but we leaked too much at the back and going forward that is the area we will have to work on.

Crucially, when Steelstown rallied at the beginning of the second period and threatened to run away from Banagher, Lynch moved veteran Sean Marty Lockhart out to centre-half from full-back and it proved a master-stroke, cutting off the Steelstown supply line.

“No, we never panicked and when you have players like Sean Marty Lockhart, Paul Cartin and Ryan Lynch in there, they were all playing defensive roles, and while the speed may not be what it used to be they have great heads on them. They are great footballers and they know Banagher well enough. They owe Banagher nothing, they have been fantastic for us over the years and are continuing to be just that.

“We switched Sean Marty out to centre-half back for the last ten or 12 minutes and it helped us change the game. It steadied the flow coming through the middle from Steelstown. The guy is just a class act and you can’t replace class,” added the Banagher manager.