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Derry boss Barton on a high but Down's Burns struggles

By John Campbell

With just two rounds of the Allianz Football League completed, it could be said that the competition is still in its infancy.

Yet for two of Ulster's newest managers, the contrast in fortunes could hardly be more dramatic.

Derry boss Damian Barton, clearly chastened after an indifferent run in the Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup that included a third defeat at the hands of Tyrone since mid-December, has suddenly been galvanised by victories over Cavan and Fermanagh that have already triggered hopes of promotion.

But his Down counterpart Eamonn Burns now enters the three-week league break burdened by apprehension following back-to-back defeats to Donegal and Monaghan that have consigned his side to a dog-fight in their bid to retain Division One status.

With Donegal and Monaghan undefeated to date and Tyrone having chiselled out a brace of victories over Cavan and Galway, the prediction that Ulster might just provide half of the teams in Division One next season is beginning to gather currency.

The general consensus, though, is that the third and fourth rounds of matches which will embrace the end of this month and the beginning of March will provide more conclusive evidence in relation to the ups and downs in the top two tiers of the competition.

Derry's renaissance not only provides a warm glow of satisfaction for manager Barton but is serving to stimulate interest in a county noted for the lukewarm nature of its support.

Barton, indeed, remains effusive in his praise for his side following their narrow 1-12 to 1-11 away win over Cavan on Sunday.

"I'm delighted, really delighted. I thought all our men at the back were superb but especially the lads in the full-back line," he stressed. "Cavan threw everything they could at us towards the end but we stood firm, particularly in the last five minutes when we made five tremendous blocks.

"The way we defended at the death epitomises the spirit in this Derry team. We showed guts and passion and played some football too."

Cavan's infamous blanket stood the test for the most part but Derry's improved firepower punched just enough holes in it to repeat their Dr McKenna Cup victory over the Breffni outfit.

Just recently, Barton confided that performances rather than results were his priority as his team was beginning to take shape but right now results are top of his agenda.

"I think the way we played against Cavan said an awful lot about this Derry team and the result topped the performance," added Barton.

"If you have six points in the bag, you're probably safe and we're really keen now to push on with Galway at home and Tyrone away in the next two rounds.

"The boys that came in against Cavan made a good impact too and we're putting together a decent squad so things are going well right now."

Barton's buoyancy is in sharp contrast to the gloom that prevails in Down following successive defeats to Donegal and Monaghan that see the side re-commence the league in a desperate quest for points to sustain their place in the top bracket.

And when it is considered that Dublin and Kerry are among their upcoming opponents, it can be seen that Burns' boys are facing a mission that is fraught with difficulties.

Having analysed his team's gutsy performance against Monaghan on Sunday when they were somewhat unfortunate to lose by 0-13 to 0-11, Burns takes a candid view of his team's current plight.

"We were very disappointed not to get something out of the game," he stated.

"Our performance was much improved from the previous week against Donegal. We showed a lot of heart and a lot of effort. I thought we used the ball well for the most part and took our chances. But we have a hard road ahead of us with some massive matches coming up."

For the second week in succession, experienced playmaker Mark Poland was forced to leave the field early but Mark McKay and Packie Downey both scored when introduced as substitutes.

"Our next match is against Kerry and while we have work to do before then, we look forward to taking them on," added Burns.

"Division One is now developing into a real battle but I think we showed and proved against Monaghan that we can play against the best of them when we put our minds to it."

Belfast Telegraph


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