Barton rues rush of club games as Tyrone clash looms
Derry manager Damian Barton believes that their chances of taking out Tyrone in the Ulster Championship are "handicapped" by the successful club scene in the Oak Leaf county, adding that some clubs are insisting their players feature this weekend.
As the build-up continues to their May 28 meeting in Celtic Park, Barton believes his small squad could be stretched to breaking point as clubs insist upon their players lining out.
"Some clubs have circled the wagons and decided that 'we don't need anybody in the county'," began Barton.
"It sends out the wrong signals. I am not wanting to be critical of clubs, but that is the reality.
"If you don't allow people to play this weekend, and we have a very small squad of players, their attitude will be, 'well, I told you, you weren't going to get on in the Tyrone game, you need to be playing with us'."
His protestations were borne out after last night's press conference, when they staged a training game in Owenbeg, where it was only 10-a-side.
The noises that club and county seasons could be divorced in a move by Croke Park was welcomed by the 1993 All-Ireland winner, who said: "I think they have to do that. For counties like us, they have to do it.
"Because I am going into a dressing room this evening and there will be boys who have been told by their clubs, 'you tell Barton that you are playing for the club this weekend'. And that's preparation."
Asked if he had asked if the round of fixtures could be 'starred', with county players pulled, he answered: "With respect, I am not sure what they understand as being starred. But I spoke to a manager of another county side, and his players haven't played for their clubs in two weeks and they are playing in June.
"It's difficult for the players because there are clubs who need their players, who maybe have lost their first five that they have played in Derry and they are playing against some clubs who have no county players."
Battles between club and county are nothing new in Derry. The success of the clubs on the provincial and All-Ireland stage has meant there has been friction for decades.
One year when there definitely was not conflict was 1993, when Barton helped Derry win the All-Ireland from centre-forward and manager Eamonn Coleman cleared the summer of club fixtures involving county players.
Therefore Barton speaks with experience when he says: "It's not an excuse. I was coming up the road reflecting on the year we were fortunate enough to win an All-Ireland. Think of the players who were 25, 26, 27, 28…
"People couldn't tell you who they were, but they never missed a training session. And there was never a question of going and playing for their club. There was never a question of the club saying, 'to hell with that, you are playing for us this weekend'."
Delving further, he said: "I think if you were talking to the chairman of the time, he may have tweaked the fixtures a bit as well, and he might have argued that we could have done without playing club football for the next two weeks.
"It's hard. It's hard for me, it's hard for the players."
He added: "We are being handicapped by the fact we have very successful clubs. They have represented the county in Ulster and have done very well.
"A Derry team against a Monaghan team? I wouldn't bet against them. A Derry team against a Tyrone team? Wouldn't bet against them. And that says quite a bit."
Derry face a mighty struggle in trying to bridge the gap with Tyrone. Last year the Red Hands came to Derry intent on taking a wrecking ball to the claim they had never won a Championship game in Celtic Park, and they obliterated their neighbours, winning by an 11 point margin.
The spring gave Barton little encouragement as Derry slid into the third tier for the first time in decades, relegation arriving on the final day of the season despite victory over Fermanagh.
"The relegation was very disappointing, especially the manner in which we did get relegated," said the former Kilrea, Slaughtneil and Ballinderry supremo.
"But really and truly we got relegated off the back of the first game which was Clare.
"The Down game, Cork game, games that we got nothing out of...
"We should have got more out of it."