DERRY manager John Brennan described yesterday’s difficult Qualifier Round One tie against Longford as the toughest draw possible and questioned the GAA’s decision to grant the Leinster men home advantage.
Michael Wilson reports
Still reeling from Saturday’s emphatic 10-point Ulster Championship Quarter-final defeat to Donegal, the Derry manager said the tie was in keeping with a year in which little has gone right for the Oak Leaf senior squad.
Compounding the difficult nature of a fixture against a team who will play in Division Two next year after successive promotion seasons under Glenn Ryan, is the fact Derry were drawn out first yet must travel.
With the Leinster men having been drawn away in the first round last year, they are entitled to home advantage this season meaning the game will most likely take place in Glennon Brothers Pearse Park on Saturday week to the obvious displeasure of the Derry boss.
“Apparently there is some rule that if you are drawn away in the Qualifiers one year you are entitled to a home draw the next,” explained the Oak Leaf manager, “It doesn’t make a lot of sense in an open draw but there you are.”
Probably the pick of the Qualifying draw, Brennan admitted his side could not have had a more difficult game with which to try and rectify the damage inflicted in Ballybofey.
“It is a very tough draw, very tough. Longford have been doing very well. They just got promoted and were only beaten by Wexford in the Leinster Championship after a replay. They’ve have a very good year in the league and are on a bit of a roll. They will be oozing confidence going into the game which is the exact opposite of ourselves, coming off one of our worse defeats in years.
“The draw is very tough but it just seems to continue what has not been a good year for us. We got the toughest draw possible in the Ulster Championship, away to the defending champions, and we have now been handed the hardest draw in the qualifiers and seen it shifted to Longford. Everything seems to have went against us this year but we need to regroup and regroup quickly.”
In stark contrast to what has been a troubled season for Derry, Longford have been enjoying a real renaissance under Ryan, recording their first Leinster Championship victory over Laois since 1968 before going down to a dramatic late Wexford winner in what was a very close replay.
Next week’s fixture is a repeat of the 2002 and 2006 qualifying campaigns. Longford claimed victory on the last occasion the two sides met on a scoreline of 1-16 to 2-12 with star man Paul Barden scoring the winning point from a free.
The Derry manager admitted it was vital that everyone within the Oak Leaf panel puts the Donegal defeat behind them as soon as possible, beginning with a frank discussion at training this week.
“We have to get back out immediately. The Longford game will be upon us quickly and we need to sort this out, sit down and talk things through. Maybe we will have to look at a different approach or perhaps the players were too built up for Saturday’s game but we have to restore some of the pride in the Derry shirt. The criticism needs to be constructive rather than destructive. We have probably the toughest draw we could get but we need to start putting the pride back into the shirt.”
Even two days after the Donegal game, Brennan admitted he still cannot understand why Derry under-performed so badly.
“The thing with the Donegal defeat was, I have never put as much work into preparing a team as I did in the five or six weeks before Saturday’s game. The whole management team did everything they could and the County Board gave us everything we asked for, they were fully behind us with weekends away etc. The players themselves were very happy with preparations.
“I’m not normally lost for words but what could I say after that game. Maybe we are not as good as we thought we were but it is very hard to measure or put into words what went wrong. Were Donegal that much better than they were in the Ulster Final 12 months ago or were we that much worse?
“We won midfield in the final last year but last weekend were wiped out completely and I’m not just talking about the two lads in the middle but in that whole sector. They simply out-ran us.
“The thing is, still no-one has said there is a better player in the county who should be playing. No-one has come to me and said ‘such and such deserves to be in the panel’. If you look at the statistics in Derry club football, Enda Lynn, Conleith Gillian and Paddy Bradley are consistently at the top of the scoring tables in club football so maybe we cannot bridge that gap at the moment, maybe. We have to wonder are the players out there in Derry to take us to that level?
“I have been racking my head and I don’t see what, in terms of preparation we could have done differently. We went out there with a game plan but it just didn’t happen. Donegal are playing the type of football I was playing with clubs in the past and the key is the support runners off the shoulder. No matter where on the pitch a Donegal player found himself or how quickly he broke forward there was always a man on his shoulder to give the ball to. We didn’t do that despite going through it continuously in training,” he added.