GAA Football

Derry have turned season around - Tony Scullion

Derry assistant manager Tony Scullion. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin 

THE response of the Derry players to their management’s plea not to give up until the final whistle has turned around their season, according to Tony Scullion.

A late recovery against Cavan last weekend secured Derry’s place in the last-12 and they will return to Breffni Park on Saturday to face Tipperary. The sides were paired together in Monday morning’s draw, which sees Roscommon meet Clare in the other round 4A game this weekend, while Donegal will face Cork and Mayo will meet Westmeath in a Croke Park double-header on Saturday, July 30.

Few would have given Derry any chance of reaching the last-eight when they were hammered by Tyrone back in May, but Scullion believes the strong finishes in recent games are a mark of the character they’ve displayed.

“Thankfully over the last three games, our lads really have responded to playing to the final whistle. As a management team, that’s what we appeal to them to do: never give up at any stage, no matter how well it looks or how poor it looks.

“There were still three points in it with 10 to go, or maybe even less, against Cavan, and they won the game. We’ve been finishing very strong, and that’s a brilliant sign for a team," said the Derry assistant.

The beaten Munster finalists, who were beaten 3-17 to 2-10 by Kerry two weeks ago, stand between the Oak Leafers and a first All-Ireland quarter-final since 2007. General wisdom would perceive that Derry would have been happy to avoid Roscommon, but Scullion scoffs at the idea, pointing to the strong conveyor belt in Tipp.

“Roscommon and Tipperary, it was six of one, half a dozen of the other,” said the four-time Allstar.

“You’d only need to have a wee look at Tipperary and see where they’ve come from over this last number of years. Over the last eight or nine years, they’ve been in six Munster minor finals, winning two. They won the All-Ireland minor in 2011 and were beat in last year’s final and they were beaten by Tyrone in a thriller in the 2015 U21 final. That’s what you’re up against.

“This is a county that’s done a lot more than my county’s done over the last 10 years. Yes, last year was great with the minors winning Ulster and this year reaching the final, but the last few years, it’s been lean in Derry.”

But the Ballinascreen man believes that, if his side displays the same intensity and will-to-win as in the second-halves against Meath and Cavan, they can match anyone: “We have to go out and give it everything we have. If we empty the tank, then please God the result will take care of itself. But if you leave stuff in the changing rooms, you may forget about it.

“In modern day Gaelic football, skill’s great at U12 and U14, but you need more than skill at senior inter-county level. You need a certain amount of character, belief and ignorance in you, that you never give up, that you play with that heart and stomach that’s required to be a senior county footballer.

“You have to have that heart and passion to work when your team hasn’t got the ball, to go and get it back, 14 outfield players from corner-back to corner-forward, that they work their arse off to get that ball back again.

“That’s what Gaelic football’s becoming. If we take that to the table, we’ll compete with a lot of other counties. That’s what it’s about.”

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