Change in attitude needed to solve Derry's problems says Barton
A BETTER attitude towards county football, from the county board, clubs, and players, is required if Derry are to enjoy success again, argues Damian Barton.
"An awful lot has been said about us going through 70 players in two years – but I approached at least a dozen who didn't want to play for Derry," revealed the Newbridge clubman.
After this year's Ulster U21 FC final, Barton added: "I couldn't entice some players to come to the senior set-up because they were being pulled by their clubs…
"I had to request the [Derry] League games on the 24th of June [a week before the qualifier against Mayo] to be cancelled.
"I won't wear this complaint that players weren't available for their clubs – we had players who played 10 out of 12 or 13 club games. In my two years, they've never played as much football."
However, he insisted that clubs are not the only culprits in doing down Derry's chances of success:
"I wouldn't totally blame the clubs. I think there's a certain amount of mismanagement, there's an accountability issue in terms of development squads.
"How we deploy resources is not totally effective.
"The narrative is `That's the manager's fault'. I have to accept a lot of responsibility – but so do people beyond me and I include those who make the snowballs, not just those who throw them.
"It's not good enough for Derry. We as a county deserve better. If that means me moving on, fine.
"I've said this consistently: we have really, really good players – but we have to provide the proper environment for them.
"I wouldn't totally blame the clubs, the players have to accept a bit of responsibility, but the county board has to take a lot of consideration about how a senior county football team is run.
"We have had minor success, which is absolutely fantastic, but I hope they're not waiting for a day they might never see. In other words, that the resources are not all being directed towards development at only one level.
"With the haemorrhage of big name players, with the lack of resources, young players will turn away, thinking 'I don't need this'.
"They know how players in other counties are treated – and it's not good enough. Things like expenses, boot vouchers, things that senior footballers are entitled to, like nutritional allowances."
Barton argues that financial backing is now the major factor in determining success:
"I remember we had a great discussion at the 20-year anniversary of the '93 All-Ireland, we sat until five in the morning. One of the guys said 'You'll not do anything until you have the money'.
"Myself and Dermot Heaney and a few others said, 'Ah, it's not all about money, it's about commitment' – but, you know what, it is [about money] because financial resource gives you the ability to put the right people in place. We haven't got that.
"I acknowledge that Club Derry are working very hard, but there has to be better alignment between them and the county board... It's not by coincidence that Tyrone are where they are.
"Tyrone treat their players the right way, with astute management. Success is what glues the whole thing together, and augments it.
"I know a county player is going to cost a few grand a year, I understand that – but you can't operate with that restriction [on squad numbers, with Derry limited to 26 this year].
"To start with that, was intolerable, add in missing Slaughtneil players and injured players, it wasn't easy. Then you have players who just don't want to play for the county, because they're not being pushed."
Barton says that players must have the desire to represent Derry: "It's the highest level you'll play at…The pinnacle of any player's career should be to represent the county…
"The players have been fantastic – but they need to get some perspective as well. Some of them have lost the run of themselves, because Derry are where they are, despite club football being pretty strong.
"I looked at Tipperary winning a Division Three football and they celebrated as if it was a provincial title. I just wonder if Derry players would have done the same.
"Some of them have to have a look at themselves, there's a respect issue there. I'd love to have stayed to change that culture."
The much-travelled club boss argues that players won't wait for the chance to make their county breakthrough:
"In my two years, no one was patient. Last year we reached the McKenna Cup Final, we should have won it – but immediately afterwards five or six players just left.
"I went to the houses of players, who I know are county [standard] players, and asked 'Am I the problem? Do you not want to play for me?'
"They said, `No, I'm at university, I'm an ambassador'. I told them Derry had invested in them and what are they giving in return? Nothing.
"But because we cannot resource properly the environment that is needed to fully compete at the highest level, we're always going to be dragging our heels – and 20-plus counties will be doing the same."
When Derry did get players together they produced good performances, Barton pointed out:
"We saw in Waterford and Castlebar – having guys together before a game is invaluable.
"I would love to get involved in county football again. It's a special atmosphere. I was so happy for the boys down in Castlebar…it was a great environment for them to play in, and gave them a taste – not least in terms of their performance – of 'This is where we want to be'."
However, he concluded with a warning for Derry's near future: "If Rory Gallagher thinks Donegal will be three or four years [before having success again], given their structure, that has been worked on for a number of years – goodness gracious me, it's going to take us an awful lot longer".