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Damien Barton is relishing Oak Leaf McKenna mission

By John Campbell

It is perhaps just as well that new Derry boss Damien Barton is not averse to a challenge.

His side is facing a difficult Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup itinerary that will embrace games against Antrim, Tyrone and Queen's before bracing themselves for their Division Two league campaign in which the priority will be to regain the Division One slot they lost this year.

With several players on duty with their university sides in the McKenna Cup and a number of others including Kevin Johnson, Gerard O'Kane and Christopher Bradley still on the injured list, Barton is finding that time is not necessarily on his side as he plots the way ahead.

Add to this the fact that his team suffered an 11-point defeat at the hands of Tyrone in the recent O'Fiaich Cup semi-final and it can be concluded that morale may have taken something of a dent.

But Barton, an All-Ireland winner with Derry in 1993 and someone who is always prepared to fight his corner, is taking a realistic approach as he attempts to have Derry portrayed in a new light after years in the wilderness.

"We are where we are," he stated with typical candour.

"When we played Tyrone in the O'Fiaich Cup we had about 10 changes in the side and as well as that some lads were playing in unfamiliar positions.

"But we have been working hard on the training ground since then and hopefully the players' efforts in this respect will be seen to better effect in the McKenna Cup. At this stage we are looking at players but obviously things will be stepped up in January."

While he has assessed some of his new recruits, Barton will clearly relish the return of some of his front-line troops to action.

Dermot McBride, Gareth McKinless, Barry McGoldrick and Sean Leo McGoldrick are among those from the latter category who are in line for starting places against Antrim on Sunday while this year's skipper Mark Lynch and Ballinderry's impressive Ryan Bell can help provide punch up front.

Emmet McGuckin, Daniel Heavron, Ciaran McFaul and Benny Heron are also eyeing starting places against the Saffrons in a bid to become fixtures in the league line-up as the Oak Leaf team prepare to do battle with Ulster rivals Cavan, Armagh, Fermanagh and Tyrone in particular.

"When you look at the current Tyrone line-up and consider the DNA of a squad many of whom are the products of successful minor and Under-21 sides and are now making the grade at senior level, you could not say this about our team," pointed out Barton.

"But our job is to move forward from here.

"I thought in our match against Tyrone earlier this month some of the players showed that they could adjust to the course of the game and it's good to see that they can do that.

"But in that game we were too porous down the middle and we can't afford to be like that in the future.

"Whenever you have weight of numbers coming at you it's very, very hard to defend. A big priority for us now is to be able to match the pace of this Tyrone team.

"We will be meeting them in the McKenna Cup, in the league and in the Ulster Championship so obviously it's imperative that we absorb lessons from that O'Fiaich Cup match.

"And you have to consider the fact that the Monaghans of this world are there as well so it's a big challenge for us.

"The boys are enjoying a good chemistry but the hard task will be to whittle down the squad numbers."

Belfast Telegraph


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