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Barton buoyed as Derry aim to shatter their Tyrone jinx

By John Campbell

It is perhaps indicative of the cautious approach that Derry adopted at the outset of the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup competition that they had already arranged a challenge match against Antrim in advance of the semi-finals.

Manager Damian Barton and his assistant Brian McGuckin clearly believed that while the tournament might prove the opportunity for several new players to seize their chance at inter-county level, the prospects of meaningful progress were perhaps limited.

McGuckin admitted: "We believed going into our game against Queen's last Wednesday night that we had such a big points difference to get over to have any chance of qualifying for the semi-finals when we met Monaghan that we just went ahead and arranged a challenge match to help keep the boys on their toes."

In the event, Derry have not only copper-fastened a place in the decider by beating Queen's 2-23 to 0-6 and Monaghan by 2-12 to 1-13 but have gained a fresh ration of confidence.

A total of 4-47 in the two games hints at an attack that might well be capable of posing problems for the Tyrone defence on Saturday night and the fact that competition for places has been stepped up further fans the flame of optimism.

In addition, expectations have risen among the county's support just now and the chance to lay a Tyrone bogey which has consumed the side for the past year - they lost every competitive game against their rivals in 2016 - is viewed as an additional incentive for the team to come good at Pairc Esler, Newry.

Manager Barton has been forced to dig deep in his efforts to fashion a side that can face the challenge presented by other Ulster opposition - at least - and now the emergence of a corps of eager newcomers cements his belief that Derry can become better with the passage of time.

"Defensively, we have players like Conor McGrogan and Ronan Murphy who have been making progress while Neil Forrester has been proving a source of inspiration to other players," said Barton.

"I maybe keep talking rather a lot about our defence but we really have to focus on not conceding much.

"We are fortunate, too, in that experienced players like Mark Lynch and James Kielt are still delivering for us in attack and we have racked up a couple of decent scores lately."

Barton might well have lobbed in the names of Emmet McGuckin and Enda Lynn when dwelling on his resources up front.

McGuckin is reinvigorated while Lynn's ability to link defence and attack is proving a cornerstone of the Oak Leaf side.

Niall Loughlin, Brendan Grant and Oisin Duffin are others who have put their hands up for inclusion.

However, Aidan McLaughlin looks set to miss the final following the shoulder injury he picked up against Monaghan.

"He has been playing some great stuff for us and this injury has come at a bad time," added Barton.

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