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Ulster Championship: Derry players feeling the heat

By John Campbell

A tongue-lashing from manager John Brennan and the lukewarm response of their followers to the choice of Clones as the venue for next Sunday’s Ulster football championship semi-final against Armagh have combined to heap pressure on Derry.

It’s 13 years since the Oak Leaf side last contested a provincial decider and the gnawing hunger to recapture the Anglo Celt Cup is palpable within the county.

But apprehension and uncertainty cloud the build-up to what is the team’s biggest match of the year to date.

Even though Derry led Fermanagh by 1-12 to 0-2 before triumphing by 1-18 to 1-10 in their preliminary round meeting, manager Brennan was less than impressed with his team’s overall performance.

“We played rubbish football in the second half in that game. We did everything wrong, our work rate dropped and we did not implement what we had decided we would do at half-time,” rapped Brennan.

This caustic analysis has prompted considerable self-examination on the part of the Derry players and since then they have been working overtime on the training ground in an effort to ensure 70 minutes of total concentration on Sunday.

“We are now going in against a Divsiion One side in this semi-final, a team who have grown accustomed to winning Ulster titles and who will feel at home in Clones. We did not play for the full 70 minutes against Fermanagh — that was the be all and end all of it,” adds Brennan.

The manager’s assertion that the team let the supporters down on that occasion has heightened the level of expectation surrounding Sunday’s game.

Yet he concedes that Derry have “very good individual players” but is anxious to see the elementary errors which he feels proliferated in the second half against Fermanagh eradicated on this occasion.

“We cannot afford to make mistakes against Armagh otherwise we will be punished for them,” insists Brennan.

There is a groundswell of opinion within Derry that takes issue with the Ulster Council’s decision to stage the game in Clones.

Derry fans are normally fickle when it comes to travelling to matches, often preferring to wait until their side reaches the closing stages of competitions before venturing out.

With competition for places having been stepped up — Kevin McGuckin, P J McCloskey, and Kevin McGuckin are among those eyeing starting places having failed to win places against Fermanagh — there is a greater intensity to Derry’s training.

There is still a doubt over the fitness of former captain Gerard O’Kane while it remains to be seen just how much game time veteran Enda Muldoon will enjoy against the orchard county.

Muldoon was substituted in the 43rd minute against Fermanagh but by then he had already laid the basis for his team’s victory through his high fielding and slick distribution. He has had his problems with injuries recently but when Muldoon is in form, Derry generally thrive.

Conleith Gilligan, Kevin McCloy, Mark Lynch and skipper Barry McGoldrick are other old hands who are relishing the prospect of helping to bring to an end Derry’s provincial title famine.

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