GAA Football

Damian Barton leaves Derry door ajar for Dungiven pair Mark Craig and Kevin Johnston

Mark Craig (above right) and his Dungiven clubmate Kevin Johnston (below) were both axed from the Derry panel last week for playing a club game
Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Cahair O'Kane

DERRY boss Damian Barton has not closed the door fully on two players who were axed from his squad last week for playing in a club game.

Dungiven duo Mark Craig and Kevin Johnston would have been likely to have featured in last Saturday’s round 2A Qualifier win over Meath, but were dropped after opting to line out for the St Canice’s side the weekend before.

Craig played the full 60 minutes for Dungiven, while Johnston came off the bench late on as they fought out a draw with local rivals Banagher. 

Both clubs were in need of the points as they occupy two of the bottom three positions in Derry’s top-flight, with just four games each remaining. 

Relegation in Derry’s club structure is settled by virtue of league position, with Championship performance having no bearing on a team’s grading for the following year.

Mark Lynch did not play in the game for Banagher, though Gerard O’Kane and Dermot McBride were given permission to play for their clubs as they continue their rehabilitation from injury. 

Craig hadn’t played a minute for Derry since being taken off in the first-half of their National League defeat by Tyrone on March 5. 

The versatile defender has been troubled by a back injury throughout the campaign, but was available for their opening round Qualifier win over Louth in June.

Kevin Johnston was a surprise inclusion in the Derry starting XV who faced Tyrone in the Ulster Championship on May 22, having not played for the county since suffering a serious knee ligament injury in the previous summer’s Ulster semi-final defeat by Donegal. 

He also played the last 29 minutes of the Owenbeg victory over Louth, but his introduction for the final few minutes of that club game meant he too was dropped.

After watching his side recover from seven points down at half-time to overcome Meath last Saturday, Damian Barton said he was left with no option, but didn’t rule out the duo making a return: “We’ve had people who have come and gone during the year. I said earlier on about choice.

“It’s a difficult situation, where we [Derry clubs] have played 12 or 13 league games and some clubs have been under pressure for points. It’s very difficult to prepare people for this game if there’s club games the previous week.

“With the greatest respect to people who fix the games, it’s very hard for players not to play for their club. We have to have standards as well and an element of discipline. They’re two great fellas and maybe they’ll be back at some stage.”

Derry’s reward for that 1-14 to 1-11 win over the Royals is a trip to Kingspan Breffni Park on Saturday to face Cavan. 

A gritty one-point victory was the Oak Leafers’ reward on their last trip there, at the start of the league campaign, though Terry Hyland’s men had the last laugh by recovering to win promotion.

Speaking before the draw had been made, Barton urged his players to grasp the opportunity the Qualifiers have presented to them: “Players win matches. It’s down to them. We can go as far as they want to go. It doesn’t matter what I want really - they have to go out and perform.

“We try and put them in that position. It doesn’t matter if we put them in the right position, they’ve got to want it. They’re there by choice and they have to want to win. I thought, in the second-half, we showed we wanted to win."

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