Derry assistant manager Brian McGuckin is relieved that the focus is back on the players wearing the Derry jersey rather than those who are not.
The decision of a number of last year’s panel not to rejoin for the new season had pundits lining up to dismiss the Oak Leafers’ 2017 prospects but McGuckin, who took charge of Derry against Armagh because Damian Barton was on a pre-planned holiday, said the management team had long since moved on and were more than happy with the squad they were assembling.
“We are not focusing on reputations any more. We are focusing on players who want to play for Derry who are willing to put in the work. We have boys here who are working extremely hard and they are building an extremely strong sense of camaraderieDerry Assistant manager, Brian McGuckin
“It was very disappointing but at the end of the day we had to dust ourselves down,” explained McGuckin, “The boys who made that decision, we accepted it. There is not point in us trying to encourage boys to be here if they do not want to be here. Once they had made their decision, we accepted it and moved on very quickly and we are very pleased with the squad we have.
“That’s the squad we are working with and, as I have said previously, there’s a good camaraderie there and they are working very hard. Granted, we are a work in progress but we are headed in the right direction.
“There was no apprehension at all (against Armagh) because the result was not the be all and end all. Our aim was to give players experience and they got that. They grew into the game well and they all did their jobs, so at no stage did we think we had to put on the more experienced players because the only way these younger players can learn is to throw them in and let them work.”
The Tyrone native said, while delighted to start the season with a victory, there was still a lot of work to do for the squad before the National League.
“We set the boys targets and set the target today of conceding no more than 14 scores so although we hadn’t scored in the first 20 minutes, we had only conceded two scores and we were happy enough with that.
“What we didn’t have going forward was the support off the shoulder but for the final 15 minutes of the first half, we had that and ended up kicking 1-05 in the final 15 minutes which was very pleasing.
“We are obviously delighted to win. Winning, believe it or not, was not our ultimate aim but we are trying to create that type of culture. We were delighted with the work rate in a lot of the areas we have worked on. A lot of things came off but there are certainly areas we need to develop and develop fast.
“For example, we were five or six points up with five minutes to go and instead of really pushing on, we retreated. We invited Armagh on to us and had there been another minute or two in the game, whose to say they couldn’t have grabbed another goal when, really, we were in a position to have put that game to bed.
“There were a lot of basic errors as well but it is the first game of the year so you have to expect that and, all in all, it was a good run out.”
McGuckin said he was hugely encouraged by the contribution of players like Craigbane midfielder Aidy McLaughlin whose brilliant goal one minute before the break proved the springboard for the victory. Former minor keeper Ben McKinless was another to grab his opportunity with both hands, making a superb late save to ensure there would be no Armagh comeback win.
“Technically Ben is extremely gifted but he still has a lot of developing to do. I thought he had a very, very good game but we will still look for areas that we can improve on.
“(Aidy’s goal) was crucial and it was a fantastic goal right from the kick out but, again, it comes down to hard-running. Aidy took off from his own 45m line and didn’t come back on to the play for another two or three passes but that’s what we are encouraging the players to do and Aidy is capable of doing it. It is about getting the players to do that more often but the goal came at a very valuable time for us.
“We are not focusing on reputations any more. We are focusing on players who want to play for Derry who are willing to put in the work. We have boys here who are working extremely hard and they are building an extremely strong sense of camaraderie but it is very early in the year though we are very pleased with how things are progressing.”