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Lynch out to shine like boss Barton and heroes of 1993

Derry ace looks to the past for inspiration in bid to end poor run against the Red Hands

By Declan Bogue

In his mind's eye, he sees himself on that famous hill in north Dublin, roaring on the boys of 1993.

Tohill. The Downeys. McKeever. Gormley.

And Barton. And Scullion. They became heroes, beating Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final - which felt like a final - before taking care of Cork, who had won it in 1989 and 1990, in the decider.

It planted a seed in the mind of seven-year-old Mark Lynch of Feeny. He showed his early promise in his Banagher club before becoming a prodigy at - where else? - St Patrick's, Maghera.

Nine years later, he was a man-child in the Derry minor team as they beat Meath in the All-Ireland final. By that stage Croke Park was a transformed structure, as was Lynch, the 16-year-old with two more years left at minors with a physique to run through the opposition.

Not so much now that he is a family man, but in the past Lynch used to dig out the videos of that 1993 team.

"I have seen all the photographs and watched the videos. I've heard plenty of the stories," he said.

He heard plenty about the likes of Damian Barton and Tony Scullion. Two men who were not inclined to take a backward step. That the two men are now the Oak Leaf management is no great surprise, it's just the natural progression in the GAA.

Still, Lynch admits to the odd tingle when he recalls them in the flower of their youth.

Ahead of tomorrow's Ulster Championship quarter-final clash with Tyrone at Celtic Park, he said: "They are inspirational figures in Derry and a lot of us look up to them. We idolised those men.

"When they came on board they asked for that passion and we had that. Hopefully we can have the passion on May 22."

A dose of misplaced passion led to Derry boss Barton becoming embroiled in a spat with a Tyrone player during the Dr McKenna Cup final in January and later being handed an eight-week suspension.

Is it a fair assumption to make that the team missed Barton's energetic presence during his ban?

"Possibly," answered Lynch.

"He has a great presence along the sideline. There are other great men there too. At the end of the day once the men cross the white line it is up to them to do it."

When Barton got the job, he - like many managers coming into the county game - promised more attacking football. No doubt they all mean it, but it is the sort of thing that looks good in a headline, then flounders desperately against an or`ganised defence.

To that end, only Laois conceded more than Derry overall among the 32 teams throughout the National Leagues.

Lynch puts it down to their own mistakes, as much as a formation issue.

"A lot of elements go into conceding scores. It's not just a matter of having six defenders in an area," he explained.

"Men are making mistakes, dropping a ball short or giving it away out the field, then it is very hard to defend.

"We seem to be making a few of those mistakes. I made them myself in a couple of games and if I hadn't have, we would have won the games. We would have been promoted.

"But those are the wee things you have to learn from and really work at ahead of the pressure of the Championship."

Being from the top of the Glenshane Pass, Lynch is from the north Derry region that is said to support their county more fervently than those in the south of the county, who prefer their club football.

The suggestion of this comes as an insult to him. He dismissed the notion and said: "Everybody is just as passionate for their county as they are for their club.

"Anybody who says that, it's probably just an excuse if we are not doing well for our county."

Few have a passion like him.

Now 30-years-old, he is married to Bernie McKaigue of Slaughtneil, the two being sweethearts since their school days. Of course, she is a cousin of his team-mates Karl and Chrissy, who happens to have succeeded Lynch as county captain.

"I am very lucky," he admitted. "I am married to a good woman from a sporting background. She knows the craic."

Together, they have two-year-old Paudie, who has a talent for, "wrecking the place! He's at that age where he is into everything."

So, just how do they make it work?

"It can be hard to leave, there are a lot of nights out, it's five nights a week. But you have to do it. That's just the way the game is. And if you don't do it, then you are found wanting," said Lynch.

By this stage, popular opinion holds that the concept of a married man playing football at this level is almost an impossibility.

"It is and it isn't. It depends how you look at it," he said.

"If you see it as a chore, then there is no point in being there, for your club and for your county."

Tomorrow, Tyrone are the warmest of favourites at 1/2 to secure their first Championship win at Celtic Park.

The two sides have already met four times this season, with Mickey Harte's men winning every encounter.

The first can be passed off as just the O'Fiaich Cup, a long-forgotten tournament that probably didn't need resurrecting, before two feisty McKenna Cup bouts brought plenty of fight.

Their most recent meeting was in the league at Healy Park, a facile win for the Red Hands characterised by Derry's lack of fight on a rain-lashed evening.

Some kinder analysis of that evening held that Barton and company were holding something back.

"There was nothing to hide, we just didn't perform," responded Lynch flatly.

"(We) didn't do ourselves justice. It's something we have to try and fix."

The opening 10 minutes in front of a packed Bogside stadium will tell us exactly how they got on with that job.

The Ulster Championship is back... Hallelujah!

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