The credibility of Derry football goes on trial this weekend.
Such was the outpouring of disappointment, frustration and anger following the capitulation of John Brennan’s team to Donegal in the Ulster Championship that Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier against Longford has now assumed crucial importance.
The Ballybofey debacle savaged Oak Leaf morale to such an extent that Brennan now finds himself under enormous pressure in only his second year in charge.
And he will now place his faith in the scoring ability of the Bradley brothers, Paddy and Eoin, to rekindle a modicum of pride and self-belief within a side that has not so much fallen from grace as toppled into oblivion.
His late introduction as a substitute against Donegal was Eoin’s first taste of county action for many months but his return to a starting role against Glen Ryan’s reinvigorated side can furnish Derry with a ration of hope.
Dermot McBride, Cailean O’Boyle and PJ McCloskey are all expected to be absentees through injury while Brennan will almost certainly amend his defence given the lack of resistance offered against Jim McGuinness’s team.
Barry McGoldrick, Mark Lynch, Mark Craig and the outstanding Paddy Bradley, who fought a heroic lone battle up front, were cited by Brennan himself as honourable exceptions to the criticism to which his side were subjected following the abysmal Ulster Championship surrender.
In contrast to Derry’s well-ventilated woes, Longford have already claimed the scalp of Justin McNulty’s Laois and taken Wexford to an enthralling replay in the Leinster Championship.
Inspired by the superb Paul Barden, Sean McCormack and Brian Kavanagh, Longford were ahead of Wexford in the closing minutes of that replay before Jason Ryan’s side grabbed the last three points to win by one.
It’s hardly surprising given their recent resurgence that Longford are relishing the visit of what they view as a deflated Derry outfit.
Manager Ryan though, who gave many years service to Kildare as a player, is cautioning against complacency.
Derry on the other hand will travel against a backdrop of apprehension and misgivings accompanied by a fanbase that will be measured in dozens rather than in hundreds.