I have to accept responsibility, emotionally it didn’t look like we were prepared for the occasion or indeed the contest.” Those were the words of Damien Barton, the Derry manager, after his team’s eleven point defeat at the hands of neighbours Tyrone last Sunday in Celtic Park.
It’s not often you hear a manager accept the blame for any loss, never mind a championship defeat. Derry have always been hard to beat, regardless of how low they were; they always managed to pull a performance out of the bag but not last Sunday. The game was over as a contest after the first half. Both teams only went through the motions in the second half. Indeed Celtic Park cleared quicker than Old Trafford has all season.
Tyrone were always favourites to come through on Sunday but it was the ease in which they came through that surprised many. You would have always expected Derry to come out with a bit of a plan to stop Tyrone. They ran through Derry like a knife through butter; very little resistance at any time. Very few, if any, of the Derry players seemed to be aware of what the game plan was or what their role was; they looked like the rabbit in the headlights.
Derry are better than that. Barton is an experienced manager and I have no doubt he is up to date on all the sports science, tactical awareness and if the Derry players needed to be motivated I am sure he has been in enough dressing rooms in his career to do the job.
Maybe the Derry players were beaten long before the game was played; maybe long before they started training for the championship. Tyrone have been in a slump for the last few years. They have done trojan work at underage level so it was only going to be a matter of time before the quality players come through. Apart from last year’s minor success Derry have struggled at underage level. Their last minor title before last year’s win was in 2002. Their last U-21 Ulster title was in 1997. You reap what you sow and in that respect Derry have taken their eye of the ball.
There will be plenty of criticism in Derry circles vented towards Barton after last Sunday’s showing; they will go after the manager because the idea is that someone is to blame. In the same way managers are sacked at will in the Premiership in England.
The problems in Derry have been there long before Barton got the job. If you don’t build the foundation properly the building comes down around you. The Derry county board, through one reason or another, have not invested enough in their underage structure over the last 20 years and that’s where their problems lie.
Barton’s statement is not unique. Many managers have accepted blame when things have gone wrong but they have always suggested circumstances were against them; maybe referee decisions, injuries, players missing and so on. Barton added nothing, it was his fault; his honesty refreshing, no blaming officials, players, weather conditions, the colour of their jerseys, nothing; the truth.
Of course, it’s not all down to Barton but he is responsible for getting all the dots joined up so the team have the best chance of winning. Maybe Barton knows full well that Derry’s best chance is in the Qualifiers and he has scheduled his preparation around that. Time will tell but it’s good to hear a bit of honesty and not the same old spin.
While it always takes a bit of time before the championship kicks into action, the argument for a so-called second or B championship will come under the spotlight once again. The games so far have been terrible, poor quality and with every team adopting a negative, defensive game plan. Watching these games is like going to the dentist.
On the B championship, very few intercounty players dream of playing in a B championship; they dream of playing in Croke Park and lifting the Sam Maguire. The problem with that is lifting Sam is more determined by where you are born. The strong are getting stronger; they’re better prepared than ever and with the cushion of the back door system the strongest will always succeed. The so-called weaker counties who haven’t the same financial muscle or the population to compete at the highest level do not want to be treated any different; they want the chance. Of course it is not fair but who said it has to be. If teams keep getting a hammering they have two choices, work harder or stop.
Of course they should be given help to at least compete better but so far the top brass in the GAA have resisted to get involved. They do not see a problem. Maybe they’re all from Dublin or Kerry. I don’t know but something needs to be done for teams who are not interested in playing in a different championship after they are out of the All-Ireland series.
It needs to be addressed if the GAA want the games to prosper in those counties. They need to do more. The choices are simple. If it’s not done other sporting organisations will step in. Playing GAA is no longer everything to young people; they have different avenues open to them than the generations that have gone before. While it may be strong in some counties the gap between the strong and the weak is growing. If it gets too wide, who knows what will happen.