Derry manager Damian Barton admits he’s had “his eyes opened” to the rigours of county management this season ahead of Saturday’s crucial Qualifier against Louth at Owenbeg (5pm).
Barton’s first season in charge has been beset by unavailability and injuries to key players, coupled with what he sees as the uncompromising demands of the Derry club scene on inter-county players.
It’s a huge task made a little bit more tricky by things like quite a lot of fixtures; club fixtures not operating like they should be; stag weekends - it has been quite amazing.Damian Barton
The problems culminated in May’s hugely disappointing Ulster Championship exit against Tyrone but Barton believes Derry could learn from the success of their neighbours.
“I’ve plenty of experience in the game at club and county level but this year I have really got my eyes opened in terms of the issues people don’t always see,” explained the Derry manager.
“It’s a huge task made a little bit more tricky by things like quite a lot of fixtures; club fixtures not operating like they should be; stag weekends - it has been quite amazing.
“Beyond this, it has been a demanding time for the players because they have to commit to club games but obviously also have to try to emotionally and physically commit to everything we have been trying to do, which has been quite minimal. It’s been difficult but I’m not taking a swipe at the clubs in any way, shape or form.
“However, I know in Tyrone players play for the club but don’t necessarily train with them, such is the dedicated programme they follow by choice when playing for the county and you can see it’s been a template for success.
“There are a lot of small things but everything has to align and a lot of things have not aligned for us this year to date. Saturday is a huge, huge game for Derry football, for me and for the team because over the last number of years we’ve gone out very meekly in the Qualifiers.”
The two counties go into this weekend’s qualifier with contrasting turnaround times since their last fixture; Louth only six days after defeat to Meath in the Leinster Championship, Derry having not played since that Tyrone loss on May 22nd. The irony for Barton though is that the Derry players could hardly be described as well rested.
“We have had a huge number of club games, something like nine games, and unlike some uninformed experts seem to be suggesting, county players have played eight out of those nine games.
“To be fair to clubs, after the Tyrone debacle it was probably nice for the players to get back to playing some football but they played on Wednesday and then again on the Sunday though it’s ‘swings and roundabouts’.
“Louth can still take a huge amount of very relevant issues from their game against Meath. They were beaten by only four points despite conceding 20 points which shows their scoring rate is good.
“They will have things at the forefront of their minds; things they need to tweak whereas we have had four or five weeks without an awful lot of happening in between. We have had very limited action as a team but you couldn’t really say the players have had a rest.”
In spite of recent form, Derry will still be expected to progress against the ‘Wee County’ but Barton says Colin Kelly’s team, who have former Oak Leaf boss, Paddy Crozier working in the backroom team, will be a formidable challenge.
“Louth are a good team. They turned over Wexford in the league and their game against Antrim in the league was hugely entertaining, as was their game against Meath last week in the Championship.
“They are very well organised and have been playing a consistent team throughout the league and that is a massive plus. We haven’t had that opportunity between one thing and another. Those things make a difference when you add them up at the end of the day.
“Louth have been very consistent in their selection and have very good footballers. They play with pace so it will be an interesting game from our point of view. They are very fit, very athletic and attack orientated so we will have to be at our best to get a result.”