Damian Barton confident there will be no more Derry departures before Qualifiers
HAVING seen one player after another turn their back on the Derry cause during his time in charge, Damian Barton is confident there will be no more departures ahead of their assault on the Qualifiers.
The Oak Leafs were a distant second best to neighbours Tyrone on Sunday, losing by 11 points – the same margin of defeat as last year – and will begin their campaign through the back door on June 17 or 24.
Barton has been forced to blood a number of younger players this year after the likes of Sean Leo McGoldrick, Liam McGoldrick, Gareth McKinless, Emmett Bradley, Eoghan Brown, Niall Holly and Christopher Bradley opted off the panel following last year’s Championship campaign.
The Oak Leafs also lost the experience of Glenullin’s Gerard O’Kane, who retired from inter-county duty, while defender Dermot McBride continues to battle back from a series of injury setbacks.
And, even last week, their preparation for the Tyrone game was disrupted by the departure of USA-bound midfielder Padraig Cassidy, while last year’s first choice goalkeeper Thomas Mallon decided to leave the panel in the days beforehand.
Yet Barton insists that all the players currently in the squad will still be available for selection by the time their next game comes around.
“They will be - there’s a lot of character among those guys. It’s a big commitment, but it’s also an honour to play county football,” said the Derry boss.
“It’s hard to reconcile because you’re an eternal optimist who looks for the good qualities in people… I’m not suggesting Thomas hasn’t good qualities, or Padraig, but I personally believe this business of America and things like that, I wouldn’t tolerate it. I think it’s a junket.
“Why would the other players be sacrificing their potential to get on the pitch whenever somebody might be on the pitch and then just disappear a week later?
“I’m very disappointed that people decide not to play. It’s not about me, it’s about Derry.
“For whatever reason people walk away and I don't want to dwell on them, they're no good to Derry and they're no good to me.
“It is a big commitment but people are entitled to make their own decisions and, whether I like it or not, I’ve no control over that.”
Derry were roundly criticised after last year’s Ulster Championship exit to the Red Hands, but bounced back impressively through the back door, defeating Louth, Meath and Cavan before succumbing to eventual All-Ireland semi-finalists Tipperary.
And Barton feels they need to go one better this time around, saying: “We were good in the Qualifiers last year and obviously the down side of last year is that we have to go back and get to at least the quarter-finals this time.”
The Derry boss handed first Championship starts to goalkeeper Ben McKinless, tenacious corner-back Niall Keenan and talented Glen corner-forward Danny Tallon on Sunday, and the 1993 All-Ireland hopes his young squad can gain further experience throughout the summer months.
He added: “You can't beat Championship.
“It's a difficult environment for young players coming in. Our method wasn't good. If we look at young players like Danny Tallon, who is an exceptional player, we just didn't get him enough ball. We have to look at the reasons why.
“But I'm happy with where we are. We have a very young squad - you just don’t arrive as a team. This team needs to mature.”