Derry aiming to build on positives for Ulster quest
The Derry football management team of Damian Barton and Brian McGuckin have challenged their squad to reveal their true character and focus even more strongly on creating a winning culture in the forthcoming Ulster Championship.
Derry's demotion to Division Three of the Allianz League was clearly a shock to the system and already remedial action is being taken in preparation for the massive challenge which the side face on June 4 when they will meet Tyrone in a mouth-watering provincial quarter-final at Celtic Park.
It was at the end of January that Tyrone native McGuckin pinned his colours to the mast when he declared: "Our objective this year is to create a winning culture. These players want to win and they want to win every time they come out onto the field."
But although they reached the McKenna Cup final having shown early signs of progress, Derry spluttered through the league and their relegation fate was sealed when Down managed to gain a last-gasp draw against Cork in the final round of fixtures earlier this month.
That setback has been difficult to digest within a county that has laboured in the shadow of teams such as Tyrone, Monaghan and Donegal in recent years. They have to go back to 1998 for their last Ulster title and in five competitive meetings with the Red Hands last year they were unable to come out on top in any of them.
But while they have been forced to ship more than their share of setbacks in terms of the unavailability of players, a marked vulnerability in defence and overall results, Barton and McGuckin are prepared to take what they see as positives from their team's admittedly unconvincing campaign to date this term.
McGuckin explained: "Our aim at the start of the year was to get young, inexperienced players as much game time as possible but now the challenge for us is to push on from there."
The Oak Leaf side will now enter the Ulster Championship under rather more pressure than most sides.
But McGuckin, who has watched a number of players earn their spurs in the side recently, is convinced the team can come good during the summer.
"The league is over. We finished on a positive note with that win over Fermanagh and it was important we got that result, although obviously it was not good enough at the end of the day to get us promotion," reflected McGuckin.
"The build-up has already commenced to our Championship meeting with Tyrone. I think we showed the necessary character in the league but we have to do so on a more consistent basis.
"We have to take what we see as the positives from the league and build on them."
Danny Tallon has made a huge impression in attack through his finishing skills, the return of Slaughtneil duo Brendan Rogers and Chrissy McKaigue has served to strengthen the defence and Neil Forrester, Niall Keenan, Oisin Duffin and Michael McEvoy are gaining more experience.
Manager Barton admits, though, that meeting the physical challenges that lie ahead will make big demands on his players.
He stated: "We are shipping too much and I keep going back to the physicality aspect. We have to be ready for Tyrone, that's the big challenge for us at this point in time."