Oak Leafers need win to avoid any last day nerves in Armagh

It's a match that will determine the manner in which Derry approach the Athletic Grounds for Sunday week's league finale.

Thursday, 24th March 2016, 5:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th March 2016, 7:23 pm
Derry manager Damian Barton.

Defeat Meath and it should be a reasonably confident Oak Leaf side with one eye on a possible league final and whose focus is already shifting to May 22nd.

The alternative? Well, anything less means Damian Barton’s men are left needing a result to safeguard their status, an outcome that looked ridiculous after two games given Derry’s impressive start.

But that is how it has been in this Division. Only Tyrone have looked a class apart and they will rightly be expected to see off bottom of the table Armagh on Saturday. The remainder of the teams look well match and, even if league safety is secured or a final spot earned, everyone will need to make a serious step up in performance before the start of their respective Championship campaigns.

For Derry, defence is the first port of call in addressing what has gone wrong in the three games since the league’s mini-break. The home defeat to Galway coincided with Damian Barton’s touchline ban but seemed to signal a much more open Oak Leaf set-up. Within 12 seconds of throw-in against the Tribsemen, Paul Conroy gathered possession, moved the ball forward under no pressure to Eddie Hoare who tapped it over.

Derry conceded 2-12 that day; 2-15 against Tyrone in a defeat which could have been much heavier and, then, 1-22 in the high scoring draw against Laois. Compare that to 1-10 and 1-12 in their opening two matches and, while the standard of opposition is a mitigating factor, it does not explain the change. Indeed, if you look at the number of scores conceded in each game of the league, it has more than doubled from 11 scores in the opener against Fermanagh to 23 in the draw in O’Moore Park. It is a major concern ahead of the Championship clash with Tyrone.

Mick O’Dowd’s team travel to Owenbeg desperate for points themselves.

They pushed Tyrone harder than Derry managed but still ultimately fell short and were continuously caught by the Red Hands counter-attacking tactic which should provide a blue-print for Derry to use.

Barton favours the long ball in but if it is not quality ball - and it hasn’t been - then you hand possession back to the opposition and invite them on to you with players out of possession.

That factor cost Derry against Tyrone with the front men often looked cut adrift and isolated. If Derry can improve the transition from defence to attack, they have shown in the McKenna Cup and league that they have the forward to hurt teams.

The kick-out is the other area of concern. Put simply, it hasn’t been working. Both Eoin McNicholl and Thomas Mallon have been left with nothing to hit at times and, again, it invites pressure and means Derry have to work twice as hard to work positions to score.

Mickey Newman will be a threat for Meath as he illustrated with the 1-07 he scored against Tyrone but Derry have enough quality to claim the points provided they tighten things up at the back.