Derry must prove credentials despite Damian Barton ban
Allianz National Football League Division Two: Derry v Galway
(Sunday, 2pm, Celtic Park)
DERRY will have to see out the rest of their promotion chase without boss Damian Barton on the sidelines after he was handed an eight-week ban.
Two wins from two represented the perfect start to his reign, but it emerged on Friday that events in January’s McKenna Cup had caught up on the Oak Leafers. While Cathal McCarron was handed a one-match ban he will serve in next year’s pre-season competition, Barton was slapped with a much heavier punishment.
It hung quietly over him during Derry’s wins over Fermanagh and Cavan but, after deciding not to follow through with an appeal to the Central Hearings Committee this week, the suspension now comes into effect. It will run through Derry’s remaining games with Galway, Tyrone, Laois, Meath and Armagh.
That will more than likely see Tony Scullion take the bib and direct operations from the touchline while his boss surveys it from the black seats at the back of the Tomás Ó Maolain stand
Damian Barton has only suffered defeat to Tyrone so far, though the fact they have been beaten three times by the Red Hands will be something he will be especially keen to rectify next weekend.
For Derry to head to Omagh next weekend with the belief they can get one over on their arch-rivals, they will need to put in a convincing display against Galway on Saturday afternoon. That hasn’t been something they’ve managed particularly well in recent times. Quite aside from the heartbreak of the All-Ireland semi-finals in 1998 and 2001, the Oak Leafers have won just once in the last five league meetings with Kevin Walsh’s side.
And then there was last summer’s Championship tie. The image that comes first to mind from the teeming Salthill rain last July is that of Derry players going ballistic at referee Conor Lane. Such was the ire the Cork whistler’s display drew that Brian McIver resigned on the spot after the game.
Sixty seconds defined that afternoon. Cailean O’Boyle didn’t get a penalty when he looked primed to palm into an empty net and, from the resulting counter-attack, Danny Cummins netted a superb goal to send Galway into the last-12.
And yet, while Derry have dipped in and out of the top flight over the last decade, Galway have been marooned (sorry) in Division Two. Flirting with relegation one year, flirting with promotion the next, them and Laois have been an absolute constant of the second tier.
They have made improvements over the past two seasons. Reaching the Connacht decider last summer and pressing Mayo hard for a fair chunk of it may sound like the sort of moral victory in which such a proud footballing county should have no interest, but that is where they are at right now.
Their last outing was disappointing. Hosting Tyrone, eyes were upon Pearse Stadium. Many fancied it to be the toughest game Mickey Harte’s side would face. That didn’t transpire at all. Heading into the dying minutes, the dominant visitors cruised, 1-11 to 0-6 up. A late flurry of 1-3 papered over the cracks in Galway’s weakened promotion hopes.
For Derry, this is about keeping up with the Joneses. They dropped out of the top-tier with Tyrone 10 months ago but it was, of course, the Red Hands who had the big run in the All-Ireland series.
Brendan Rogers returns from the facial injury suffered in that McKenna Cup final and is again named as an experimental midfielder. Ryan Ferris comes in at corner-back as Dermot McBride remains sidelined, while Daniel McKinless gets his chance at corner-forward ahead of both Emmett McGuckin and Cailean O’Boyle. Sean Leo McGoldrick and Niall Holly are on the bench after returning from club duty with Eoghan Rua’s hurlers.
The two-week break was something Derry didn’t particularly want and it’s proved relatively valuable for Galway, with an octet of players all returning to training. Gary Sice, Patrick Sweeney, Finian Hanley, Shane Walsh, Danny Cummins, Paul Varley and Gareth Bradshaw are all at differing stages of recovery from injury. Saturday may come too soon for them all though.
Cummins caused Derry particular problems last year. Absentees of that calibre is something they are not equipped to deal with. And as a result, Saturday may come too soon for Galway. Derry to continue their winning run.
Derry: T Mallon; R Ferris, C McKaigue, K McKaigue; M Craig, G McKinless, D Heavron; E Bradley, B Rogers; B Heron, J Kielt, C McFaul; R Bell, M Lynch, D McKinless; Subs: E McNicholl, O Duffy, N Holly, C McAtamney, C Murphy, C Bradley, S Heavron, SL McGoldrick, N Loughlin, E McGuckin, C O’Boyle