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The real deal starts now for Cassidy’s Oak Leafers

Derry manager Damien Cassidy pulls no punches as he assesses Sunday’s Ulster championship showdown with Armagh in Celtic Park.

There’s no danger of him losing any sleep over the Oak Leaf county’s relegation to Division Two, nor is he about to offer any excuses.

“I’ve my own views on the league and I don’t give an awful lot of credence to what happens in that particular competition,” said Cassidy. “The Championship is what it’s all about and the match with Armagh in Celtic Park effectively marks the start of our season.

“I won’t be putting my head on the block and making some outrageous prediction, but at the same time I have confidence in the players I have at my disposal and I have every belief in them.

“This year I actually believe we are ready to have a meaningful Championship campaign and I’m quietly confident these players can do well.

“Armagh had a good league campaign and their performance in the final was as good as they could have wanted. It always says a lot about a side that finishes stronger just as they did in beating Down in the Division Two final in Croke Park.”

In his eyes that victory makes Armagh favourites as they prepare to head to Celtic Park where the Oak Leaf men are unbeaten in championship football since 1994, when Down emerged victorious en route to claiming a fifth All Ireland senior title.

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On that warm, sunny afternoon Derry could do little but stand back as Mickey Linden, Greg Blaney and James McCartan all took centre stage.

The bookies though don’t quite agree with Cassidy’s take on the match in that they make the home side 10/11 with Armagh on offer at 11/10.

“Winning a league title makes them favourites. The pressure is all on Armagh to perform and we have nothing to lose as the ball is firmly in Armagh’s court. It’s, theirs to lose rather than ours to win.

“The fact we’ve lost a couple of games in Celtic Park this season is totally irrelevant. I have yet to speak to anyone who was at our game with Monaghan last year in Celtic Park and didn’t enjoy it. They all seemed to enjoy the day. Television though never really gives you the full picture.

“ But make no mistake Armagh won’t come to Celtic Park and lie down.”

Cassidy makes no attempt to hide his frustration with the current championship set up, saying: “It’s time someone in authority faced down the provincial councils to allow a more equitable system to be put in place for all teams in the country.

“What’s good for one should be good for all.

“An open draw would be a fair system, as the present one has become totally discredited. An open draw with no back door route would be my favoured option.

“In my book there should be no safety net. A safety net was designed solely to generate money.

“The reality is should we lose to Armagh we’re going to have to sit and wait for the first round of the qualifiers sometime in the first week of July and that’s a situation that cannot be tolerated.”

Teams which emerge from the preliminary round games have a notoriously bad record in the championship, but Cassidy is undeterred.

“Do you think I’m saying to my squad only one team in 65 years has won the Ulster championship, having played in the preliminary round?” he asked.

“You can be sure I’m not. We’ll be looking at the Armagh game believing we’re going to win. Statistics can be used to prove anything you want.”

The Oak Leaf men suffered the ignominy of relegation to Division Two earlier this season.

But it would be foolish in the extreme to read too much into that outcome as they were short of a number of key players.

Celtic Park has become something of a fortress for them in championship terms for almost two decades.

They are still hurting badly from last season when old rivals Tyrone dumped them out of the championship at the semi-final stage. And now nothing but their best will suffice against Armagh.

Derry: B. Gillis, B. Og Mc Alary, K Mc Guckian, D Mc Bride, G O’Kane, B Mc Guigan, M Bateson, F Doherty, P Bradley, S L Mc Goldrick, M Lynch, D Mullan, P Bradley, E Bradley, R Wilkinson.

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