CITY OF DERRY: McMaster a big ’Home and Away’ fan

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City of Derry Head Coach Terry McMaster believes the restructuring of the All Ireland Leagues will provide a more level playing field for teams ahead of this weekend’s big kick-off.

McMaster takes his Judges Road team to Barnhall for the opening game of what he hopes will be a promotion campaign and has welcomed the introduction of the ‘home and away’ format.

“With the Ulster League, it was right to dilute that into two section because teams were playing far too many games in a season,” explained McMaster, “There would be a pastoral care issue because it’s a contact sport and that contact has gained momentum in the last few years with the increase in conditioning. We needed less games but as regards the AIL, I love the home and away aspect.

“You get two chances at every team now. We play Barnhall next week and then we get another go later in the season when we’ll have footage of them. From a coaching perspective that’s what I need. I need to see how they set themselves up and if we can’t get a result next week we’ll have a second bite at them in the New Year up here at Judges Road.

“Making it home and away means not every game is must win. You know you can get back at that opposition later in the year and you will have your homework done for that.

“It levels the playing field for everyone. If you had a year when you had two games in Cork, one in Limerick and one in Galway, well, those are hard yards which mean often guys wouldn’t be available because of work commitments etc. It evens itself out because previously we were always looking at the fixture list and thinking, ‘Right, how many long away trips?’. Now it is the same for every team.”

McMaster was speaking after watching his team march impressively into the Senior Cup quarter final following a six-try stroll against Armagh with new signings Ali Beckett (2) and John Burns (2) and Neil Brown all scoring tries.

I thought we were good. We lost a bit of shape toward the end and felt that the ref allowed them to play a bit outside the laws. When that happens you do tend to lose shape but for probably 65 out of the 80 minutes I was really happy.

“The game got broken and we ended up rolling our entire bench. We had guys on the pitch toward the end that we probably shouldn’t have had because they were cramping up. We slipped off a few tackles in the last 10 but up until then our defence was superb and that’s what we start with. Any team I coach, I start with defence and if we get that right, we can influence the game even if we don’t have the ball.

“This is only our second game after Harlequins let us down last week. To be fair, two games in, I was delighted with our physicality and a lot of that credit must go Joe Gallanagh who I have brought in as strength and conditioning coach this year. He is the ex-Munster S&C Coach and Joe has them in good shape. I thought we looked in better shape than Armagh when we ran out on to the pitch. You could see our players had worked hard in the summer and that paid dividends,” added the Derry coach.