Oak Leaf side should have won a lot more: Thomas Mallon
Derry goalkeeper Thomas Mallon has sampled just one Ulster Championship victory since he was introduced to the side by manager Brian McIver three years ago.
And although he walked off with the man of the match award when his side overcame Down in the quarter-final earlier this month, Mallon believes the Oak Leaf side face their biggest test when they confront reigning champions Donegal in tomorrow's semi-final at Clones.
His apprehension can be summed up in just one word - goals.
Patrick McBrearty's opportunist strike after just two minutes for Donegal effectively ended their meeting with Armagh as a meaningful contest, Conor McManus's late goal for Monaghan cemented their win over Fermanagh after they had struggled earlier and Darren McCurry's super score helped to keep Tyrone on Donegal's shoulder for the greater part of their preliminary round tie at Ballybofey.
Little wonder, then, that Mallon, a mere novice in championship terms when compared to his long-serving, much-decorated Donegal counterpart Paul Durcan, is akin to a coiled spring as he ponders tomorrow's showdown against one of the leading contenders for the Sam Maguire.
And Mallon talks just as he keeps goal - without frills and with utter conviction.
"Obviously it was satisfying to get the man of the match trophy but the fact of the matter is that Derry have under-achieved over the course of recent years," blasts the Loup clubman.
"The calibre of players in club football in the county in the last 10 or 15 years has been astonishing. You only have to look at Derry clubs' records in the Ulster Club Championship."
"Derry as a county definitely should have done a lot more and won a lot more. The challenge is to transfer club achievements into the inter-county realm"
It is 17 years since Derry last won the Ulster title and while they are outsiders tomorrow, Mallon believes the deep yearning to reach the decider will stand the side in good stead.
"That win over Down this month was my first championship win with Derry and it was sweet. I had to wait three years for it," muses Mallon.
"Maybe in the past Derry teams might have been afflicted by nerves and apprehension but I don't think these drawbacks will be in evidence tomorrow."
Donegal have had the upper hand on Derry in both the league and championship of late but Mallon is convinced the defence could serve them well in the heat of battle.
"There definitely is a chemistry within our defence and a confidence in each other," he says. "During the league, even though we were relegated, we didn't concede too many goals. If the team is working hard from corner-forward back, then obviously this makes life easier for the goalkeeper."
And he pours cold water on the theory that Derry tend to be preoccupied with a defensive strategy.
"That's absolutely not the case. All that matters to me is that when the ball is thrown in, I'm in the game and I'm confident in myself that we are going out to get a result. Anything that's written in the press about our defence or anything else doesn't bother me," adds Mallon defiantly.
An ardent admirer of Dublin goalkeeper Stephen Cluxton - he certainly replicates his penchant for delivering accurate kick-outs - Mallon believes Cluxton has set new standards for everyone wearing the No 1 shirt.
"He has taken goalkeeping to a whole new level and he is the master. I still regard myself as the apprentice but I nonetheless aspire to be as good as he is," says the Oak Leaf custodian.