GAA Football

Derry supporters will be paying price of more success, reckons Brendan Rogers

Derry's Brendan Rogers in full flight against Donegal during the Ulster SFC Final at Clones; he was named Pwc GAA/GPA Footballer of the Month for May.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin

SUCCESS costs. In the past, Derry’s players paid the price; now, Brendan Rogers reckons the supporters will have to keep stumping up.

The Oak Leafers had been under-achievers on the senior stage until this season, in terms of the return on the talent in their ranks.

Yet after winning this year’s Ulster SFC, the Slaughtneil clubman believes their followers will have to pay out plenty for tickets and travel in the years to come.

Derry used to attract only a relatively small number of supporters compared to most other Ulster counties, but they significantly outnumbered and outshouted neighbours at Clones to help end a 24-year wait for the Anglo-Celt Cup:

“Yeah, the support in that Ulster final was phenomenal,” said Rogers, whose display ensured he was voted the PwC GAA/GPA Footballer of the month for May.

“It’s very difficult to get support out for any team when you are in Division Four, but obviously with momentum and people can see that it’s obviously more attractive to come and support Derry now.

“I fully believe that given the team we have people will be supporting Derry for a long time now.

“The support and lift that that gave in crucial moments of that Ulster final was very, very important.

“The players do notice that and hopefully the fans appreciate their voice is heard and they do give the players a lift and they really need them, especially when there is extra time and you’re trying to get out the pitch when everybody is tired, and playing 80, 90, 100 minutes of Championship football in what was a warm day. All those percentages matter.”

This Saturday another sizeable Derry support will back the Oak Leafers against Clare in the first of the All-Ireland SFC quarter-finals at Croke Park, a venue Rogers knows well.

Rogers acknowledges that his own club was a factor in Derry’s failings, including dropping down to the bottom tier of the Allianz Football League.

Slaughtneil’s Ulster triumphs in both football and hurling meant the county was often deprived of the likes of himself, Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, Shane McGuigann, and Padraig Cassidy for extended periods.

“It was probably unfortunate that the Slaughtneil team had gone so long [in the club championships] given that we had quite a number of players starting on the team.

“I think for a long time maybe seven of the starting team was missing. Take seven out of the team for any National League, it’s quite a loss outside of any potential injuries and things like that.

“With that, there comes a bit of ‘mix and match’ of players being available and players not.”

Rogers is not one to simply excuses, though. The ball-playing defender, who scored three points while man-marking Donegal captain Michael Murphy, accepts that Derry didn’t do themselves any favours at times either:

“Obviously getting people to commit to that level - it’s not for everyone. Everyone has their own circumstances and you can’t hold that against them.

“Probably small things like that do have an impact on the team environment if players are missing.

“Obviously Derry were just playing sub-par for a long time too and that was reflected in some of the results as well. Even when we did get the full team, we still weren’t playing at that top level.”

With Slaughtneil only winning the Derry football championship once over the past four seasons, in 2020, the county has benefited, says Rogers:

“We have had a settled team for a number of years now so we got to develop into that [higher] level, and I suppose that’s what the difference was.

“With the split season you get your full cohort of players for that window of the year.

“There’s no distractions elsewhere. You are either playing for Derry or not. That’s probably all the pieces that come together as well, and with the top-class management team we have, there’s always that attraction to play for the county as well.

“That too lends itself to bringing out the best players and getting them all together too.”

Indeed Rogers has high praise for Rory Gallagher, who has brought his experience from being in charge of both his native Fermanagh and Donegal:

“He has been very instrumental in the whole thing in getting the best out of players. He understands what it takes to play at the top level and he’s coached and been involved in teams that have won Ulsters and All-Irelands.

“There is obviously a standard to be set and he came in and set it. He demanded that the players get to that level and pushed us, but not in a crazy way.

“He is obviously looking after his players as best as possible. The players understand that.

“He’s been very instrumental in how he’s coached players into learning and becoming more intelligent footballers….Bringing things into the radar that they should know that they maybe took for granted before.”

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