Question: How do we beat Donegal? Answer: By scoring more. How do we do that: Answer Concede less!
Those were the responses of Derry manager, John Brennan, when fielding questions at the Derry Press Night in Owenbeg last week.
Brennan is a character and after losing the Ulster final to Donegal last year, he will have made his plans to make it much more difficult for Donegal on Saturday evening next.
Asked about the Donegal blanket defence: “I will have a better plan this time,” said Brennan, who quickly added: “I’m not going to give out in detail what the detail was. I’m not going to tell you. I have a plan better than last year because. I have the players who will hold their position,” he said.
The Derry manager was critical of clubs who he blamed for playing players who were injured and he now was without the likes of Dermot McBride for the game against Donegal.
Derry had a good weekend away in preparation for the game, but the loss of Dermot McBride to injury and the possibility of not having Eoin Bradley is concerning the Derry manager.
Derry will also be without big full-forward Caolan O’Boyle, who has troubled Donegal in the past. “He’s gone. Caolan O’Boyle and Dermot McBride are definitely gone. Gerard O’Kane, I hope, Eoin Bradley, I don’t know,” was how Brennan responded to questions about his injured players.
But the Derry manager was upbeat also. When asked if he considered Derry to be in a better position to beat Donegal now than they were in the Ulster final.
His response was pithy and immediate, “I do,”, he remarked, adding, “Because we have gained a year. Last year we had one player Enda Muldoon who had previously played in an Ulster Final. Enda has decided to retire. Enda did not do himself justice last year in the Ulster Final. Then again maybe I should not have played him. He had an injury. There was the added pressure of losing Eoin Bradley six days before the final. Those things add up. But it transpired that on the day Donegal were cuter.
“But I’m not going to criticise Donegal. If I could devise a system like Donegal where we played nonstop across the pitch and still win, then people could criticise from morning to night but I would still have enjoyed it. Donegal have been criticised down the years for their hand-passing. They’ve been doing that from whenever. All they changed was to bring two or three extra people back in defence and play the same kind of football. You’re not going to develop that system in a few weeks.
“Very few players on the Donegal side were playing in their first Ulster final. They’d had one in his fourth final, several in the third final. Also they knew how to win more than we did and on the day they did that.”
Of the game itself last year he stated emphatically: “We were punished by not being awarded a penalty and by the one that was awarded to Donegal. At half-time in the dressing room we had a system as to how we were going to play the second half. But when you concede a penalty in a tight game just after half time, two minutes in to the second half, and awarded from the half way line, then Donegal get a goal. Donegal held out.
“But we had a chance to get back into the game with four points between the sides with ten minutes to go when we thought we should have had a penalty.
“And consider the statistics of the game. They conceded twice as many frees as we did but they were only punished with fifty per cent of the yellow cards.
“There are certain things that we would like to undo that were done to us last year. But whether we can do it or not, that’s entirely up to us,” said Brennan.
“But listen; give credit to the team that wins. I hate losing but I give credit to the team that wins,” said the Derry manager.