John Brennan may not quite view himself as a messiah but his already substantial stock within Derry has soared further now that he has successfully plotted his team’s arrival in next month’s Ulster Championship final.
Just as he does in terms of tactics — as Armagh will undoubtedly confirm — Brennan cuts to the quick in assessing the Oak Leaf county’s dramatic emergence from the Ulster championship doldrums.
“We needed to raise our game following that win over Fermanagh and Armagh required to replicate the performance they produced against Down. We succeeded in achieving our aim,” declared Brennan pointedly — and with more than a hint of understatement.
A nine-point win over an orchard county side that has dined lavishly on Ulster titles since 1999 has suddenly projected Derry into the frame for glory but Brennan’s feet remain firmly on the ground.
“We had to get this semi-final win — I would have been happy to win by a point — and now we have to climb a bigger peak. I am very proud of my players,” he said.
“Derry teams have had to take a lot of criticism but I think this performance underlines the ability and spirit within the squad.”
And with a steely rather then a mischievous glint in his eye he viewed Derry’s All-Ireland prospects thus: “I said that if we played the way I know we can play and get over the line in this match against Armagh then we will still be involved later on in the year.”
While Brennan now prepares to digest next Sunday’s second semi-final between Donegal and Tyrone in minute detail, Armagh manager Paddy O’Rourke must turn his attention to the second round of the Qualifiers.
He does so knowing that his side played second fiddle on far too many fronts yesterday.
“We lost too many battles all over the pitch and any team which does that is going to lose the war. Having said that, Derry played very well and Eoin Bradley was immense for them.,” he said.
“We tried several players on him but we could not curb him.”
The brilliant save which Derry goalkeeper Danny Devlin pulled off from Steven McDonnell in the 55th minute was, O’Rourke suggested, the beginning of the end for his team.
“Had we got that goal we would have trimmed Derry’s lead to just one point. Instead, they went straight down the field and stuck the ball in our net. That put us seven points behind and we never recovered from that,” sighed O’Rourke.
Man of the match Eoin Bradley expressed delight that Derry had finally managed to put over a decade of championship hurt behind them and it all came down to the belief instilled in them by Brennan.
“John Brennan told us to believe in ourselves and even when Armagh got their goal at the start of the second half we were able to get in front of them again. That all comes from self-belief and the right attitude,” stated Bradley.