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Barton will go the distance to lift Derry title bid

By John Campbell

The last time Derry collected silverware of any hue was in December 2013 when they took delivery of the O'Fiaich Cup after defeating Armagh in the final.

Since then, the Oak Leafs have suffered a drought, their last Ulster Championship title having been won in 1998 and their only All-Ireland win to date achieved in 1993.

A Dr McKenna Cup final is hardly an occasion to bring out the flags and bunting but Saturday's showdown with Tyrone at the Athletic Grounds, Armagh has special significance.

Not only does it offer an opportunity to land an early-season strike but victory would also be a feather in the cap of new manager Damian Barton.

County chairman Brian Smith has already said that a McKenna Cup triumph would bring "a bit of joy back to the county" and perhaps see hitherto lukewarm fans get behind the team again.

"Any trophy is a meaningful trophy and we would like to see things progress and move on up," said Smith.

"Football is about trying to give a bit of joy back to the county and restoring the feel-good factor. There's a lot more talent in our county than people think."

Barton himself, aiming for a first win over Tyrone in what will be his third attempt in six weeks, admits that his team are "not there yet in what is a challenging environment".

He added: "It's still early but it feels as if we are in the throes of a competitive season already. But we are progressing and while I am quite happy with the way we are playing, I still feel we are not taking all the chances.

"The fact that we are playing Tyrone again is of little relevance. The expectation is that we might meet them more than four times this year so I am not worried at this stage who we play, it's more about how we play."

Now it would seem as if Barton is prepared to adopt the Nanci Griffith global hit 'From a Distance' as his mantra as he focuses on yet another clash with Mickey Harte's upbeat team before the start of the Allianz League, in which his side will meet Fermanagh a week later.

Far from joining in the lament surrounding massed defences, Barton is prepared to light a candle rather than curse the darkness which envelopes Gaelic football when safety-first is a prime option.

And he now does so by urging his elite corps of marksmen to hit the target from distances of 40-45 yards.

In James Kielt, Ryan Bell (pictured) and Cailean O'Boyle, Barton feels he has long-range sharpshooters who can steer his side onto a higher plateau.

"We have some very good kickers - Ryan was exceptional against Cavan in the semi-final on Sunday - while James and Cailean can hit the target," stated Barton.

"Let's face it, though, if a player can't kick the ball over the bar from 40 yards then he shouldn't be playing at this level.

"If you have good kickers, you have got to make sure you give them the ball. In the same way teams can bring up their goalkeeper to put a '45' over the bar, teams should also have players who are comfortable scoring out of their hands from distance."

As well as being consistently accurate, Kielt, Bell and O'Boyle are physically imposing figures with the capacity to trouble opposing defences.

Barton is anxious to elicit the best he can get from his expanded squad against a Tyrone side that will be aiming for a fifth McKenna Cup on the trot.

"The reality at inter-county level is that you will have players who are injured, others who are committed to work and others who are sitting exams and it's hard to juggle a panel if you have just 30 players," pointed out Barton.

"Irrespective of what other people think, I know by looking at different counties how they run a squad with numbers and you definitely need that."

Belfast Telegraph


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