Brendan Rogers: Derry primed to bounce back into top-tier contention
Division Four could be the ideal place for Derry’s stars of the future to learn the ropes and ease themselves into senior inter-county football, according to Slaughtneil star Brendan Rogers.
Away from the highly-charged environment of the top level, he feels they can benefit from the absence of the levels of pressure which can prove too daunting for some young players.
The Oak Leafers have made a spectacular fall from Division One to the basement tier of the National Football League in the space of four seasons, but their full-back is confident they can immediately begin to climb back to where they belong.
“We have a lot of young lads there with a lot of medals behind them, a lot of experience playing at inter-county level through All-Ireland series in U21 and Minor, and in the last couple of years some of them have had a bit of senior experience,” he said.
“So we’re definitely looking to build on improving and maybe the best thing for those young lads is to be playing in Division Four.
“It’s not the best place for Derry football, but as a building block for those players, it could be just what we need.
“I think the demands of the modern game can be detrimental to young players, and they might not realise the benefits of sacrificing things like a social life as students.
“I’m not saying that we have a team of partiers, but the county lifestyle can be very much different to that of a club one, and maybe it will take a bit of blending in to a more dominant role, although at a lower grade, to get that culture set in, of working hard and becoming a leader.
“Whenever you can blend that culture into a team, it can definitely drive you forward in hopefully what we will achieve in the next couple of years.”
The Slaughtneil star suggested that Derry’s players may have suffered from complacency and a mis-placed confidence in recent seasons, wrapped up in an elevated opinion of their place in gaelic football’s hierarchy.
“Maybe in the last couple of years we were possibly, mentally, in a place where we thought we were better than we were, and we fell into that trap, and ended up dropping two divisions.
“It’s not something we would ideally like to be in, but this is where it is, and we now realise that the only way is up.
“So things can only get better, we can only improve, and that’s basically what we’re aiming for at the minute.”
Hopes for Derry’s short-term future have been pinned on the county’s recent success at Minor level, under current senior manager Damien McErlain.
The loss of a handful of the most exciting prospects to the AFL, however, has diluted the talent pool.
But Slaughtneil ace Rogers feels the departure of Conor Glass, Anton Tohill and Callum Brown for Australia will open the door for others who can play their part in the re-emergence of the Oak Leafers.
“They were three fine talents, and most certainly going to be in the senior panel within a very short space of time.
“It’s something most counties would love to have, the type of players that they are, athletic midfielders who can anot just catt=ch a ball under a kick-outm, but thye can cover ground, playa ball, and they were very physically developed before they even left.
“Of course they’re a massive loss, but those guys were in teams that were very successful, and there was an absolute wealth of talent came out of those teams.
“And maybe this will give those other boys a chance to stand up and be counted for a position that they didn’t get much game time in before, simply because of those players.
“We’re definitely disappointed to see them go, but like everybody in Derry, we support them in their decision to go there. It’s a fantastic opportunity and we do wish them all the beset success in their careers out in Australia.”
Derry will be boosted by the availability of the Slaughtneil players for the Dr McKenna Cup and National League campaigns, due to their early exit from the club championship series.
On reflection. Rogers feels there may in the past have been an over-dependence on the Emmets contingent, with a general assumption among the squad that all would be well once they returned from their All-Ireland exploits.
“It’s not easy when players come back into a set-up, and not to blow our own trumpet, but there’s that element of ‘we’re waiting on these guys to come back and things will get better’.
“But from experience, it’s easier said than done. Even for the team ethos, it’s good to have everybody there at the one time, to go through the wars together.
“That’s what gels the team, and that’s what pre-season is all about.
“We’ll get plenty of league games behind us, I think in the last couple of seasons, we only got one or two games in the league, and then expected to play championship at a very competitive level and be up to speed with everything.
“Now we have a chance to work on playing as a team, it will very much help the whole thing along, and that’s what Derry need at the minute, they need everybody behind the wheel at the same time, singing off the same hymn sheet, and that’s what we’re aiming to do this year.”