Derry manager Damian Barton has reasons to be positive for McKenna tilt
Derry manager Damian Barton is prepared to embrace the positives as his team gear up to make their assault on the Dr McKenna Cup.
When the action gets under way next month, the Oak Leaf side will lock horns with Armagh, Down and Queen's in what could prove a hugely competitive Section A.
Barton may have been rocked back on his heels when it was revealed in the autumn that several players would be unavailable for his 2017 panel, but if he was, he certainly did not reach for the panic button.
Instead, he watched and waited as Slaughtneil roared to another Ulster Club title - thereby considerably reducing his selection options further for the early part of the new season - while at the same time conducting a trawl of players, some of whom he now hopes will flourish at inter-county level.
Never a man to allow himself to be consumed by pessimism, Barton can take comfort from the fact that Danny Heavron, a consistent performer throughout 2016, will be back on board again next year while long-serving Enda Lynn has confirmed his full recovery from injury by adding another feather to his cap in winning an Inter-provincial Championship medal with Ulster.
Heavron was thought to be among those who had distanced themselves from the county set-up, but it appears that he is helping to set the tone at training, while Lynn has made a huge success of resurrecting his career following the serious leg injury he incurred in the Dr McKenna Cup final against Tyrone last January.
The Greenlough clubman made a big impact when he lined out with Ulster in the Inter-provincial Championship final against Connacht on Saturday and deservedly claimed his medal as Peter McGrath's men recorded a 32nd triumph for the province.
Derry's five defeats to Tyrone spanning the period from December to July tends to be a predominant statistic in any assessment of their 2016 itinerary, but this would be to overlook the fact that Barton's men made it into the last 12 of the All-Ireland series in which they were only narrowly beaten by resurgent Tipperary.
Barton watched his side lose to Armagh in the semi-final of the O'Fiaich Cup earlier this month but was not too disappointed by the outcome.
"I don't doubt the ability of Derry footballers. We have a huge number of talented players and they just need exposure at inter-county level," stated Barton.
"Some of the younger guys were saying after we played Armagh that they just couldn't believe the step-up that this entails."
Barton, an All-Ireland winner with Derry in 1993 and fiercely committed to his county, is preparing to unveil an additional battery of new faces in the McKenna Cup as he seeks to assemble a team which can compete strongly in Division Two of the league.
"We will be up against sides like Cork, Down, Galway and Meath and obviously this will be a very tough division but it will give players the opportunity to adapt to the pace and intensity of inter-county football and hopefully they will all benefit from this experience," added Barton.
Danny Tallon, Neil Forrester, Carlus McWilliams, Ben McKinless, Francis Kearney and Niall Toner are among the players who can come even more to the fore with the Oak Leaf side sooner rather than later.