Bateson can make most of his chance for Derry
It's an ill wind that blows no one any good.
Derry defender Michael Bateson will readily testify to that as he contemplates his rather unexpected Ulster Championship debut against Armagh at Celtic Park tomorrow.
With Michael McGoldrick, Charlie Kielt, Kevin McCloy and Barry McGoldrick unavailable to throw their weight behind the Oak Leaf team’s bid to extend their 16-year unbeaten Championship run at their own headquarters, Bateson suddenly finds himself thrust into the provincial spotlight in manager Damian Cassidy’s restructured rearguard.
He was brought into the Derry squad by the then manager Paddy Crozier three seasons ago but spasmodic appearances only since then have restricted his capacity to offer a sharper challenge for a regular place.
Now having sampled a rather limited diet of county team action despite scoring against Monaghan and Cork in the recent National League, the 22-year-old Newbridge clubman finds himself afforded the opportunity to project his talents on the most demanding stage of all for the first time in his career and against a side revealing a marked hunger to land what would be their eighth title in 11 years.
It will be of some comfort to the well-built but still raw Bateson (pictured) that he finds himself included in a half-back line that also contains the ‘other’ Barry McGuigan whose pugilistic tendencies focus on ball-winning bouts as well as inspirational skipper Gerard O’Kane who once again finds himself involved in musical chairs, his deployment at right-half-back facilitating Bateson’s arrival in the No 7 shirt.
It’s a half-back unit within a Derry side with much to prove tomorrow that could well be forced to absorb considerable physical and psychological pressure given the power, versatility and stamina that Armagh are expected to bring to the table, particularly via the imposing Malachy Mackin and Gareth Swift in their half-forward sector.
If James Kielt’s omission from the Derry side was something of a surprise and Kevin McGuckin’s inclusion at full-back a significant switch, then Bateson’s presence hints at a gamble on the part of manager Cassidy who nonetheless epitomises belief and buoyancy as he ponders what is a major mission for his team.
Last year Derry sent Monaghan packing after an opening round war of attrition at Celtic Park and while Cassidy would prefer to win with style tomorrow, he is prepared to accept the spoils of victory again this time round however they are packaged.
“We had a lot of injury problems last year for the Championship and obviously we have some worries this time round as well. While this is a big test against Armagh, our preparations have been such that I feel we can rise to the occasion,” states Cassidy.
Just how high his half-back division in particular can rise literally and metaphorically could ultimately determine the outcome of a game which, irrespective of the outcome, will always have a special slot on Michael Bateson’s sporting CV.