Win or bust for Damian Barton and Derry in Waterford
All-Ireland Senior Football Championship Qualifiers, round 1A: Waterford v Derry (Saturday, Fraher Field, 3pm)
BAR a home draw, getting Waterford was as good as Derry could have hoped for in the opening round of Qualifiers.
(Derry have won all three previous meetings and the counties meet for the first time in the Championship this afternoon with the Oak Leafers hoping for a win to put some wind back in their sails after their hiding from Tyrone in Ulster last month.
And they should get it.
The Decies have won once in 16 Qualifiers and, as manager Tom McGlinchey admits: “Any sane person would say we’ve no chance”.
His side’s last win was against Wicklow in Division Four in early February and since then Waterford have fallen short against Wexford, Westmeath, Carlow, Limerick, Leitrim and Cork.
Losing to the Rebels in the Munster Championship wasn’t a surprise, but the manner of the loss was because Cork had to get out of jail to sneak home by a single point and the result that has given this tie the feel of a ‘banana skin’ for Derry.
“I’m sure they’ll feel there’s a vulnerability there so it should be a good contest,” said Derry manager Damian Barton.
“Fitness-wise, both teams should be on a par. Technically I would like to think that we’re slightly better having played at a higher level and that could be the defining difference. It will be down to who can impose their gameplan on the day.”
Barton’s hand has been strengthened by James Kielt’s return to fitness (although he’s not listed to start) while county captain Enda Lynn has also recovered from a hamstring strain.
“We’ve Enda back and arguably what was forgotten the last day was the absence of the influence of James who was our top scorer through the League,” said Barton.
“His free-taking prowess and his ability to take points from distance could be a huge advantage as well. We have targets and ambition for the weekend and it’s a case of getting down there and seeing how things go.
“It would be nice to get a victory and the confidence it would give us. I know the players aren’t looking any further than that but we’ve got to hit our targets and we’ve got to perform otherwise we will not be in the next round.”
If Derry are not in the next round, today’s game could be Barton’s last as bainisteoir. He has previously said that managing his native county has been the most difficult task he has ever undertaken.
Now in the second of the two-year term he was appointed to serve, when asked if he was in the job for “the long haul” whatever the result today, he replied: “I don’t know if anybody’s in it for the long haul in county management.
“It’s not as simple as that, there are a lot of impacting issues and players resources are just one of them. We are in the process of developing young players and we have some of the U21 players in the squad, which is a very positive thing.
“We are moving, as a group and as a county, in the right direction and hopefully Saturday will help along the way.”
Derry’s major problems this year have been at the back. Division Two ended in relegation, but the Oak Leafers were at least able to post some decent scoring totals, particularly in the latter stages – their downfall was that they couldn’t defend them.
The returns of Slaughtneil defenders Chrissie and Karl McKaigue and Brendan Rogers didn’t have the impact hoped for against Tyrone, but there was a crumb of comfort in that the Red Hands created only one goal-scoring opportunity and didn’t take it.
Mickey Harte’s men did hit 22 points though but Waterford will not be as dangerous from distance. The Decies played with two sweepers against Cork and the bulk of their players come from three clubs – Ballinacourty, An Rinn and Kilrossanty whose contingent includes main scoring threat Donie Breathnach.
It’s all about levels and, as Barton says, Derry had been exposed to a higher standard of football this year and that should prove to be the difference this afternoon.
Anything but a Derry win (and by at least six points) is unthinkable.
Derry: B McKinless; N Keenan, B Rogers, K McKaigue; C McFaul, C McKaigue, C McWilliams; C McAtamney, D Heavron; R Bell, N Loughlin, E Lynn; D Tallon, E McGuckin, B Heron