Derry shouldn't be in Division Three: Mallon
IT was a long and arduous League campaign for Derry, one where they found it ultimately impossible to escape their fatal defensive flaws, and that stings Thomas Mallon.
Having faced an early battle for his number one jersey, the Loup netminder has started each of the last four games and looks set to hold off Ben McKinless and Conor McLarnon for the summer.
But the spring has been chastening for the three of them. Their first five games saw them concede 11 goals, five of them in one game away to Galway.
They entered the final weekend of the League with the worst defensive record in all four divisions and although they restricted Fermanagh to 0-13 and kept a second consecutive clean sheet, it wasn’t enough to undo their earlier strife.
They will begin next year in the third tier of the National League for the first time in 13 years, which is contrary to the work that’s been done elsewhere in the county in recent years.
Derry has had three of the last four Ulster senior club champions, and six of the last eight at minor club level. The MacRory Cup has resided in Derry four of the last five years.
The county minors have been in consecutive Ulster finals the last two years, winning one. And yet, in the last two years, Derry have won just four of their 14 National League games.
“Absolutely,” admitted Mallon when asked if it would be a struggle for the players to get lifted for Championship.
“Derry as a county shouldn’t be in Division Three, but that’s the reality, that’s where we’re at. You just have to look at the schools in Derry, St Pat’s and the Convent, look at Slaughtneil; Derry does have fabulous footballers.
“This year we’ve been restrained from having our best players between a few injuries and Slaughtneil doing well.
“The young boys came in and you can see it’s helped them because the under-21s are going fairly well at the minute, and best of luck to them on Wednesday.
“The young boys have come on. But it would have been nice to have had a settled team from the start of the League, who knows what could have happened?”
He, like his team-mates, briefly thought safety was assured by Carlus McWilliams’ late winner in Brewster Park.
That would have kept Derry up had it not been for Ryan Johnston’s even later intervention in Cork that saw Down survive on points difference instead.
Although they tightened up instantly upon the return of Slaughtneil trio Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, and Brendan Rogers to the starting team in the last fortnight, it’s been a tough campaign on the whole.
But Mallon admits that not even keeping clean sheets is enough on its own against stronger opposition as the Oak Leafers start to look towards Tyrone’s visit to Celtic Park next month.
“We’ve had a lot of plusses in the League, but a lot of negatives too because we were conceding too much,” said the Derry goalkeeper.
“Those are the facts, they’re there on paper. The last couple of games we’ve shown a bit more pride in the jersey. We’re back to our clubs this week and we’ll get stuck back into it the following week and look forward to Tyrone in the Championship.
“We’ve been missing a few men, injuries and whatnot, and a lot of young men have got their chance and come into the team. In fairness to them, they’ve tried their best, but we were conceding too much.
“You can see the Slaughtneil boys have come in the last two games and we’ve cut out the goals, which is a plus, but we’re still giving away cheap frees and Sean Quigley and Colm O’Neill showed you’ll be punished.
“Yes, you can contain the goals but even if you’re giving away soft frees, teams with good strikers of a ball will still punish you, even in Division Two.”