GAA Football

Key players to opt out of Derry setup

Danny Heavron is one of nine Derry players understood to have opted out of the county panel for next year. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

DERRY are set to be decimated by the loss of at least nine key players next season, including Danny Heavron and Sean Leo McGoldrick.

Liam McGoldrick, Gareth McKinless, Conor McAtamney, Emmett Bradley, Ciaran McFaul, Eoghan Brown and Christopher Bradley are the others understood to have opted out.

The Oak Leafers could end up without both of their starting midfielders from the summer past as well. It’s understood that the McGoldricks’ cousin and fellow Eoghan Rua man Niall Holly is also deliberating over his involvement.

Losing so many key players represents the most crippling of hammer blows to Damian Barton’s hopes of progression in his second year.

The Irish News understands that for many of the players, the decision was based on changes in personal circumstances.

Conor McAtamney recently began a course in sports science in Loughborough near Nottingham and won’t be available until May at the earliest.

Gareth McKinless is set to go travelling to America next summer and, as such, he will not form part of Damian Barton’s squad.

Bellaghy forward Eoghan Brown, who joined the panel in the middle of last season, is getting married in the middle of next year and it’s understood he would be on honeymoon during Championship season, and took the decision to opt out for that reason.

Heavron, who has had two superb years in the red and white, is also believed to have opted out for personal reasons rather than footballing ones.

Sean Leo McGoldrick has endured a tough last 12 months with injury and wasn’t involved in the Oak Leafers’ Championship campaign this summer as a result.

All nine that have opted out have played Championship football over the last two years, with all except Sean Leo McGoldrick featuring during the summer of 2016.

The better news is that Ballinascreen defender Dermot McBride has committed for the season.

He was only able to come off the bench against Tyrone in the Ulster Championship opener at Celtic Park in May, and wasn’t available for any of the rest of Derry’s games on their run to the last 12.

Ballinascreen duo Benny Heron and Carlus McWilliams are also back in the mix. Heron has been a regular in the squad in recent years but missed the summer past as he travelled to America.

He returned and was in fine form helping his club to the last four of the Derry Championship recently, while McWilliams’ club form also impressed.

Dungiven’s Mark Craig has also returned to the fold having been dropped by Barton in the middle of the Championship for playing in a club league game.

Fellow Dungiven defender Kevin Johnston was also dropped for playing in the same game, but it’s believed that he has turned down an invitation to rejoin the squad.

Young Glen trio Danny Tallon, Michael Warnock and Jack Doherty have all been called in, while Swatragh’s Patrick Kearney will also join up with the squad.

Under the rules of the ‘winter ban’, Derry cannot begin training until the first week of December.

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