Andy Watters: Mickey Harte will know all about his Derry players after three losses on-the-trot

There could still be a kick in Derry if manager Harte can work magic for Mayo trip

Mickey Harte enter the Derry changing room. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin
Mickey Harte will use all his experience to motivate his Derry players for Saturday's preliminary quarter-final against Mayo. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin

LAST Sunday Armagh were in serious trouble.

A big Galway fella standing near me was smiling and relaxed when Liam Silke clipped over a point to stretch his county’s lead to five.

Meanwhile, Armagh fans shook their heads.

“It’s not going to happen,” they thought.

But things changed quickly and a few minutes later the sweat was dripping off the Galway fella’s nose, the spittle was flying out of his mouth and his face was almost the same colour as his maroon jersey.

Just like that, the momentum had swung. A mistake from the Galway ‘keeper and Tiernan Kelly stuck the ball in his net. Suddenly Armagh had their tails up, the game was level in a flash and that was good enough for the Orchardmen.

The lesson was as old as sport: It ain’t over ‘til it’s over. When momentum swings and confidence goes from one side to the other anything can happen.

Rory McIlroy could tell you all about that.

While Armagh and Galway battled it out in Sligo he was thousands of miles away in Pinehurst, North Carolina but the same influences were at play. ‘All’ he to do was keep his head, keep it between the ditches and he would have been US Open champion.

He’d been rock solid with short putts for almost four rounds and had a two-footer at the 16th to stay one up with three to play. ‘All’ he had to do was roll it in, like he’d done thousands of times before but when the finishing line comes into view it seems it isn’t about just playing any more.

Rory McIlroy puts his head in his hands after a bogey on the 72nd hole of the US Open (USGA/Jeff Haynes)
Rory McIlroy puts his head in his hands after a bogey on the 72nd hole of the US Open (USGA/Jeff Haynes)

The closer the end gets, the more the pressure can build: The relief of getting over the line, wanting it to be over, almost feeling that trophy in your hands…

His palms got a little sweatier and the noises inside his head grew a little louder.

He struck his putt it well enough but the ball caught the lip of the hole and refused to drop. The crowd gasped, Rory groaned and his rivals sensed an opportunity as momentum swung from him to them.

In fairness to Rory he kept it together and had the chance to force a play-off at the last.

Another two-footer, another miss.

Rory’s face at the end… I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone look so gutted.

When things are going well, the ball must seem like a marble and the hole about two-feet wide but when they aren’t it’ll be like putting a beachball into an egg cup over a ploughed field.

When momentum has turned against you how do you get it back?

That’s the challenge facing Derry in Castlebar on Saturday evening.

When they beat Dublin in the Division One final at the end of March, Derry were cruising. It seemed the team had the ability to forensically identify weaknesses in their opponents and exploit them ruthlessly and brilliantly. Derry were a red and white machine and it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ they would win the Sam Maguire it was ‘when’.

Just three months later, the Oak Leafers are a shadow of their former selves. Shots that were going inside the post now stay outside, players who were scoring game after game look scared to have a go, the aura has gone, passes are rushed, runs aren’t made, the ball won’t break their way…

Losing to Donegal proved Derry were human but take the goals out of it and they weren’t awful in that game. However, they were second best in Galway and looked lost against Armagh.

As he walked back out for the second half against Westmeath last Saturday, Mickey Harte looked like a man with Slieve Gallion on his shoulders. He had. Derry were bang-average but, unconvincing as it was, they did get the job done.

Going to Castlebar to play a Mayo team that had Dublin on the rack last weekend is a different proposition. Even at their peak, Derry wouldn’t have been a sure thing for this match-up.

Harte has to find a way to restore confidence and belief and, as he’ll know better than anyone, that’s exactly what the Derry County Board brought him in for.

He took Derry to the National League title but he’ll know far more about his players after watching them lose three on-the-trot. He’ll know who is really up for digging Derry out of the hole they’ve found themselves in.

Have Derry become too civilised by their success? Have they lost their edge and transitioned from a brilliant Championship outfit into a League team?

When you go through the competitors on their team I can’t believe they have.

You could see the passion was still there when they scored their two goals in Newry last weekend. They’ll go to Castlebar with nothing expected of them and only the hardcore still there to support them.

Those two intangibles - momentum and confidence - drained away so quickly, can they find a way to get them back? If so there might be a kick in Derry yet.

EMPTY STADIA: what action is Croke Park like to see in the coming weeks?
The hallowed turf of Croke Park

THINK of the fine players who have graced the hallowed turf of Croke Park.

O’Connell, O’Neill, Spillane, McConville, Canavan, Connolly, Clifford, Purcell, Tohill, Sheehy… By next Monday night you can add Watters and O’Kane to that list because us two Irish News wannabes are getting to play in a charity match for the Irish media team against the GAA staff.

Everything comes to those who wait.

When the email arrived from the Gaelic Writers’ Association I nearly passed out with excitement but I thought: ‘No it’s not for me, not at this stage of my ‘career’. Then I had a feeling and that feeling turned into an idea, then a concept and then a reply to that email. A couple of weeks and plenty of telling anybody who would listen later and here I am ready to borrow somebody’s boots and gloves and go out and try not to make a total fool of myself at Croke Park.

I don’t know if it’s live on free-to-air TV, I don’t know if the Artane Boys’ Band are playing beforehand, I don’t know if President Michael D. Higgins will be there to meet the teams, but I’m sure the gather-up of middle-aged hacks who take the field will give all they can for the five or 10 minutes they’re able to run about without breathing apparatus.

Yes, myself and Cahair are like a couple of children on Christmas Eve but on a serious note, the game (30 minutes of football and then the same in hurling) is being played for charity and the money raised will be divided equally between the four GAA charities: The Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Hugh’s House, The Mater Hospital Foundation and Ruhama.

If you would like to donate, please go to the following link: