No more margin for Derry error
Allianz Football League Division Three: Derry v Offaly (Sunday, 2pm, Celtic Park)
STARTING to worry about sinking further may not be what they had in mind three weeks ago but Terence O’Brien insists it’s “all good pressure” for a young Derry side.
The Loup midfielder has been one of the key introductions to Damian McErlain’s new-look squad. Close observers of the club scene in Derry have noticed a boy become man over the past two years.
His physical development was evident in midweek as he turned in an excellent display for Ulster University as they progressed to the last four of the Sigerson Cup.
“Coming up with Derry seniors, in fresh the first couple of years, I didn’t really know what to be at in terms of getting the body right, what I should be eating and drinking.
“Getting out of Belfast helped things. I’m on placement year in Cookstown at the minute. I had been living up and it’s hard to get the balance when you’re doing that,” he said of his own progression since his first stint with the county.
He had been lumped into the team for his championship debut in 2014 just weeks after joining the squad, but was unable to prevent them falling to defeat by Longford.
Derry suffered at the hands of their nemesis once more last weekend and defeat in Pearse Park has left them second bottom in Division Three.
With away trips to promotion chasing Fermanagh and Armagh on the horizon, there is a sense of absolute necessity about the two points being collected against Offaly tomorrow.
“There are people saying that we took Longford lightly but we definitely didn’t, we knew what was coming with them.
“We’re a young team. I don’t know what the average is but it’s very young, boys are coming through and it’s building blocks at this stage.
“It’s all good pressure. We’ll take it one game at a time and not worry too much. Damian [McErlain]’s good, he knows what he’s at. He’s had that system with the minors and he’s trying to put it in with us now and see how it works.”
It has been a sharp learning curve so far. The team has started to strengthen and come marginally more experienced over the last few weeks, with Benny Heron, Mark Lynch and James Kielt all coming off the bench last week.
Perhaps concerning was the fact that they got back within a point with half an hour to go in Pearse Park but were blown out of it thereafter, with Michael Quinn running the show for the midlanders.
Their starting attack scored just 1-2 from play and it is on the inside division that they are at their freshest. The pace and energy of Niall Toner and Peter Hagan – the latter having played most of his football at wing-back or wing-forward – has struggled to make inroads.
Offaly come shy of confidence themselves, though they’ll be somewhat happier with the way they responded to a poor start in Fermanagh, albeit without ever threatening a complete turnaround.
Longford had tanked them the weekend previous, and they have looked near certainties for the drop back to Division Four, having won promotion out of the bottom tier in 2015.
Kerry native Stephen Wallace, who guided Ardfert and Kerry juniors to All-Ireland titles before taking on the Offaly gig, has been trying to bring sexy football back to the Faithful county.
But right now they are vulnerable. Derry have no option but to take advantage, or they will be in deep trouble themselves.
Offaly: B Rohan; D Hogan, P McConway, D Brady; D Dempsey, S Pender, N Darby; P Cunningham, C McNamee; B O’Dea, M Brazil, S Nally; B Allen, A Sullivan, N Dunne
Subs: A Mulhall, S Tierney, J O’Connor, C Johnson, J Hayes, A Hensey, J Lalor, S Doyle, C Carroll, J Egan, J Moloney