After offering an emphatic 20-point response to anyone doubting Derry’s interest in the McKenna Cup, Damian Barton is banking on Sunday’s semi-final helping preparations for the League opener with Clare on February 5th.
Wednesday’s facile victory over an under-strength Queen’s side means the Oak Leafers travel to the Athletic Grounds, Armagh on Sunday (2pm) for a last four meeting with Monaghan which Barton believes can only benefit the players.
We are in the semi-final and it’s another game against quality opposition but, of course, the fortnight after that is more important.Damian Barton
“Someone was keeping an eye on the score (difference against Queen’s) and to play Monaghan is a great game for us,” explained the Derry manager, “Competitive football is very important at this time of the year.
“We had a match organised any way so it’s ‘swings and roundabouts’. Monaghan are a first class side, as they have proven, and we are - as I keep saying - where we are.
“I thought some of the younger players acquitted themselves very well against Queen’s. There is still a bit of rust in the team and in some individuals and I think competition is fantastic. The distances we ran against Queen’s in heavy enough conditions, will stand us in good stead for the league.”
The Derry manager will be able to call on players previously with their Universities for the Farney clash and Niall Keenan, Niall Toner, Callum Mullan-Young and Barry Grant should join up with the panel but Michael McEvoy misses out through injury.
“I’m hoping we can bring in the university players now that they are out of the competition because we want to see how they integrate with the panel,” added Barton.
Ciaran Mullan is likely to miss out after aggravating a hamstring injury against Queen’s but Barton believes the McKenna Cup has already proved a huge benefit, regardless of Sunday’s result.
“Game-plan shape and game management is something the boys have to do when they get on the pitch so I think the competition has been a great learning curve for the younger players.
“We are in the semi-final and it’s another game against quality opposition but, of course, the fortnight after that is more important.”