ULSTER CHAMPIONSHIP QUARTER-FINAL: DERRY V TYRONE
Twenty years ago, Tyrone took on Derry as reigning Ulster champions. As favourites.
Twelve months previously Canavan, McGleenan, Dooher and Co. had knocked the Oak Leafers out en route to lifting the Anglo Celt Cup. Sounds familiar, right?
It will to most Derry fans. Back in 1997, Derry were contenders, not just for Ulster but for Sam Maguire and that June 29th clash served notice of exactly why. The reigning champions were torn apart. Joe Brolly hit 1-04, Joe Cassidy 0-04 and Anthony Tohill and Dermot Heaney ruled Clones from the middle of the park as the Oak Leafers scored a memorable 2-15 to 2-03 victory.
But while the circumstances of this weekend’s clash have an eerie familiarity about them, the prospects of a similar revenge mission seems light years away.
Times have changed and not for the best. Derry are no longer viewed by Tyrone as a ‘main rival’. If nothing else, the Oak Leaf 2017 vintage should be looking to restore that thought in Red Hand heads.
Preparations could hardly have been worse for such a pivotal game. Relegation to Division Three, simmering ‘club versus county’ tensions and player departures from the squad in the form of Thomas Mallon and Padraig Cassidy.
It’s a keyhole glance into the life of a modern county manager and that’s a life you get the impression Damian Barton expected to be significantly different from what he has encountered over the past 18 months have brought.
“We have had a difficult time, I use this word ‘transition’”, explained the Derry manager. “This damn thing keeps evolving all the time. We have a few injuries and everything else. Consistency of personnel is something we haven’t had.”
Frustration is the over-riding emotion within Oak Leaf circles and the almost political nature of managing off-field problems has taken a toll on Barton.
“There is a lot that doesn’t sit easy with me. The best place to be - you’ve heard it from payers and manager before - the most honest place to be is out on the training ground. Out on the pitch, where all the baggage is left to one side and you have people working together.
“This is the most difficult thing I have even been involved in. I used to sit back, involved with a club, and you are looking at multi-talented guys, whether they are physios and the resources you can call on and do you know this – it is not the case, it all boils down to finance. Commitment of finance and commitment of people - in every county.”
The Derry manager sounds downbeat but insists he is far from it and frustration can be a powerful motivating agent. As can revenge.
“Are there scars (from last year)? I don’t think it, because it is the seventh time we’ve met and we’ve had our backsides kicked more often than not.
“I don’t think it’s that relevant to the boys to be quite honest. I do know it hurt them and I hope to see a response in proportion to that hurt because I have no doubt it definitely scarred a lot of our supporters.
“We have a chance but we can’t let the game go away. Good teams will put three points on you; you look at the scoreboard and you see five. After that, six or seven and the game is gone.
“We are not in a bad place. Nobody gives us a chance, especially after our league form but our expectations is that we go out and represent ourselves and Derry with pride.”