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Manager Damien Barton bids to bolster Derry's defence

By John Campbell

Derry manager Damien Barton is addressing what he feels is a huge headache in advance of his team's forthcoming Ulster Championship meeting with Tyrone.

The Oak Leaf side's defensive record in the Allianz League is a cause for concern for Barton and his selectors and as they bid to stave off what would be a fifth successive defeat at the hands of Mickey Harte's side since mid-December, a defensive overhaul could be in the pipeline.

In their last three games Derry conceded 1-18 to Armagh, 2-12 to Meath and 1-22 to Laois, forcing Barton to admit: "Our concession rate is way too high. Offensively we are not going too badly but we certainly have work to do in terms of our defence."

Derry were without three of their best defenders - Kevin Johnston, Dermot McBride and Gerard O'Kane - for the league and their combined man-marking skills and clever covering ability were certainly missed.

Johnston suffered a cruciate ligament injury against Donegal in the Ulster Championship last year and has not kicked a ball since then while McBride, who saw some action in the Dr McKenna Cup, has been troubled by a deep-seated groin complaint. O'Kane has been missing for some time but is still regarded as a valuable asset given his penchant for linking defence and attack.

But while all three players are gaining in their respective fitness levels, their lack of game-time may militate against their prospects of participating in the early stages of Derry's championship itinerary.

While Barton is relieved that his side have consolidated their position in Division Two, he acknowledges that in the heightened intensity of championship defensive frailties could prove disastrous.

"While I am happy enough with the way things have been going, I don't think the team has reached its full potential yet. We won't do this until we have a more sound defensive structure and obviously this is something that we are addressing for the Ulster Championship," he points out. Skipper Chrissy McKaigue and Brendan Rogers form the central spine of the defence from which Mark Craig is also an absentee.

McKaigue underlined his value when he kept Armagh danger-man Stefan Campbell in check for the greater part of last Sunday's game and believes that his team can absorb lessons from the league.

Derry have not won the provincial accolade since 1998 and Barton, who was a key player in the county's 1993 All-Ireland winning side, is particularly keen to end this famine.

While it is likely that a restructured Derry side will confront Tyrone in what will be the most important meeting of all between the sides, the Oak Team's inability to capitalise on their own kick-outs is another worry for boss Barton.

Against Armagh on Sunday, Derry conceded several scores because of an apparent lack of understanding in relation to their kick-outs. Indeed, some kick-outs went straight out of play thus providing Armagh with opportunities to further pressurise the over-worked Derry defence and this is also something that Barton is keen to avoid in the future.

Belfast Telegraph


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