Derry are "well over" the players who left panel says manager Damian Barton
LOSING nine seasoned players came as a blow, but Damian Barton says Derry have moved on and are looking forward to next season with optimism.
Manager Barton said he was “well over the guys that aren’t available this year” after watching a fledgling 26-man panel, that included 17 senior rookies, fight to the finish against Armagh in Crossmaglen last Sunday.
Barton says he is “happy enough” with his squad for 2017 and is determined to do the best with what he’s got after Danny Heavron, Ciaran McFaul, Conor McAtamney, Eoghan Brown, Emmett Bradley, Christopher Brown, Gareth McKinless, Sean Leo McGoldrick and Liam McGoldrick all decided they could no longer commit to the demands of inter-county football.
The Derry manager says time is running out for any of the retirees to reconsider their decision before the 2017 season begins. Derry open their McKenna Cup programme against Armagh in a group that also includes Down and Queen’s University before beginning their Division Two campaign against Clare on February 5.
After taking on the Banner, Derry travel to Meath, then have back-to-back home games with Kildare and Down, travel to Galway, host Cork and finish against Ulster rivals Fermanagh at Brewster Park.
“The door is getting closer to being shut,” said Barton.
“We have the McKenna Cup coming up and obviously the 5th of February is our big game against Clare at home so it’s very difficult to bring someone in and get them conditioned to play at that level and I don’t care who it is if they have been sitting out for a number of months.
“I’m happy enough with where we are, we just need to be ambitious and we saw that in flashes against Armagh. That’s something we can build on.”
Now in his second year in charge of Derry, Barton says the county is “at a developmental stage”. Fans will have to be patient.
“It’s a hugely-challenging environment at the minute in terms of commitment, in terms of development of players – it takes a period of time – and that’s just where we’re at,” he said.
“I think we’re at a developmental stage. If you ask Mayo how long it took to build their team or you look back and see how long some of those guys have been playing you’re talking about three-to-five years no matter what team it is now.
“We’ll see how these guys develop. We’re well over the guys that aren’t available this year.”
Barton’s young Oak Leafers played with flair and panache last Sunday and had established a seven-point lead before the Derry manager rang the changes during the half-time interval. Armagh dominated the second half and won by four points in the end.
“I don’t doubt the ability of Derry footballers and you saw that in the first half and in the collective that is Slaughtneil,” Barton said after the game.
“We footballed our way back into the game and we have a huge number of talented footballers – they just need exposure to this level.
“Some of the younger guys were saying that they just couldn’t believe the step up and I think it’s great that those guys are there. It’s something we haven’t done in the past to bring players through.”