Barton will attempt to nurture a county over club ethos in Derry
DAMIAN BARTON’S revolution has already begun. In assuming the Derry reins on Monday night, the Newbridge clubman believes his “biggest challenge” will be trying to convince people of the virtues of putting the county first and club second for the Oak Leafs to be a force again.
Derry have been in general decline since the late 1990s, with their last Ulster title coming in 1998. They reached two All-Ireland semi-finals in 2001 and '04 via the back door, but have struggled to make an impact against the elite teams in the country.
“There are counties who put the county team first and the club second,” Barton said.
“In this county, that’s going to be a challenge because there is a great deal of parochialism, in a positive sense, but that can be construed as negative as well. We have some very talented players in this county and we have to get them all together. I think we need to give them the time to grow as a team. I think that is going to be my biggest challenge.
“Clubs in Tyrone accept that they won’t have their county players and clubs have actually bought into the ethos of Tyrone being successful at county level.
“I also think it’s very difficult for players to cross over in their training [between club and county]… One of the things I hope to do is speak to clubs about players - because they are club players first and foremost - if we can leave them with their clubs in better condition I think it’s a positive thing for the club. But I do think it’s going to take huge support from the clubs, otherwise we mightn’t be as successful as we’d want to be.”
In Brian's McIver's last year in charge, Derry were relegated to Division Two, lost an Ulster semi-final to Donegal and exited the All-Ireland series to Galway in round three.
Asked if he believed it was a good time to take over his native county, Barton said: “If you look at Division Two, it's not a good time to be taking the team! It's an Ulster Championship within itself whereas if you look at Division One, I'm thinking: 'I wouldn't mind meeting some of those teams compared to what we're going to meet in Division Two'.
“I'll be doing my best to get to Division One, but we know what happened the last manager who got to Division One. So, everything is relative."
Talent-wise, Barton has no such worries: “If you look back at the U21s, I thought we had a great U21 side this year. I don’t know why they didn’t perform against Tyrone [Ulster semi-finals]," he said.
"But we have talented U21s, talented players at underage level and the Glen are going for their fifth Ulster minor. So we have players coming through. I’m just a small cog who, for a couple of years, will maybe bring a bit of success to the county and maybe develop players.”
He added: “I know Derry has talent, otherwise I wouldn’t have got involved. I think there are some things that probably need tweaked. I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks what the previous incumbent Brian [McIver] had gone through in terms of the challenges.
“I appreciate it is a big challenge, a difficult role and is probably going to get a wee bit tougher and I know the challenge for me is getting people who want to play for this county. This county has had talent, but some have maybe committed more in the past to their clubs.”
The 1993 All-Ireland winner has managed many club sides over the years, including Burren, Ballinderry, Slaughtneil and, more recently, Kilrea.
He joked: “I’ve a great knack of leaving teams and them winning the Championship the following year. Frank Dawson used to say: ‘You know Damian, you have the best team in Down [Burren]’, even though he was managing another team in Down.
“So obviously when I left Burren he duly went and won a Championship with them. You could say I left Ballinderry and Brian [McIver] went on to win an All-Ireland there. So whoever’s coming in after me has a great chance. That seems to be the trend! But I’ve really enjoyed all my experiences at club level. This is a new challenge. It might be my last challenge.”
The 53-year-old also hopes to play an attacking brand of football too and would consult widely while in the post: “Players don’t train just to sit behind the ball and, certainly, my objective is to get players to stick the ball in the net or over the bar because that’s where you get the enjoyment of playing football – winning with some style.
“My objective is to get players enjoying the type of football that they can express themselves in and that's not being critical of what happened this year or last year or the year before that.”
Brian McGuckin and Mickey Conlon have been asked to become part of Barton’s backroom team, while Tony Scullion will be involved in an advisory capacity, “as will many of my colleagues from '93. I wouldn’t have any qualms of lifting the phone to Anthony Tohill and asking his opnion in an advisory capacity similar to Tony.”
Meanwhile, the prospect of Eoin ‘Skinner’ Bradley continuing with Derry next season is debatable, while his elder brother Paddy declined to comment on a possible return to the ranks after several years in the wilderness.
Skinner plays for Danske Bank Premiership soccer outfit Glenavon, but managed to play for Derry during the season. But Barton appeared to cast some doubt over Skinner juggling the two codes next season.
“Everybody has to play for their place,” said the new manager.
“There will be different challenges for different people. If people are not able to give me the commitment that I require, I can't see them being part of my team.”