DERRY GAA: Forester captain as Barton makes four changes for Down
Bank Of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup, Section A: Down v Derry (Sunday, Newry, 2pm)
Damian Barton has challenged his revamped Derry squad to build on a positive first step after naming four changes for Sunday’s McKenna Cup clash against Down in Pairc Esler.
After last week’s encouraging one point win over Armagh, Thomas Mallon, Ronan Murphy, Conor McGrogan and Conor Nevin are handed starts in place of Ben McKinless, Oisin Hegarty, Jack Doherty and Michael Warnock with Steelstown’s Neil Forester named captain.
Young Magherafelt keeper Conor McLarnon is on an experienced substitutes’ bench alongside the likes of Conor McAtamney, James Kielt, Mark Craig and Ciaran Mullan, none of whom featured last week.
The Derry manager was unable to attend last week’s opener but has since watched the match back a number of times and was more than happy with what he saw.
“The whole point of the exercise was to give players opportunities to play and to test themselves at this standard and some of the players did very well,” explained Barton.
“We have a few more boys available this week but others have a bit more work to do. That’s where we are at.
“There were a number of positives last week. It can be a steep learning curve for players coming in. It’s a big step up in terms of intensity, even from senior club championship, but there’s only one place to learn and that’s on the pitch.
“Last week Armagh brought physicality, which I don’t mean in a disrespectful way. Down will probably come with what people describe as a purer form of football so this will be a new challenge.”
Aidy McLaughlin is again named at midfield after his impressive return to county action was cut short by injury last week. The Craigbane man was last in the panel under Damian Cassidy before a broken arm halted his progress but Barton says he has earned another opportunity.
“Aidy was very good in this year’s championship and is in because he deserves his opportunity. His application on the field and work off it has been inspirational so hopefully he can build on last week.
“That would be the main hope for all the players, that they build on and improve from last week’s performance.”
Barton is building toward the crucial League opener with Clare and admits he has mixed feelings about last year’s McKenna Cup which cost him the services of forward Enda Lynn.
“Last year was a strange competition for us despite reaching the final,” he added, “We lost a very valuable player but the emphasis this year remains on getting these young players an opportunity to play and it was great last week to see so many young players get their chance in the Derry shirt.
“Things rarely work out the way you want on the squad front. This year we have gone in with quite a small number whereas last season we had quite a few. If you are working off a panel of, say 30 players, it never materialises that you have 30 players to select from at any given time.
“You obviously can add the university boys to that number and also the fact that Glen want to defend their Ulster Under 21 Championship in a couple of weeks. We are very mindful of that.”
While the Derry manager believes the universities get “a good deal” with the scheduling of the McKenna Cup after the Ryan Cup, he’s happy to work within the guidelines although he conceded the loss of the Slaughtneil contingent will be a blow for the League.
“It is fantastic for Slaughtneil but being without the two McKaigues and Brendan Rogers for the first couple of league games at least is a big loss and that’s before you even start to look at the other players within the club.
“However, I thought it was fantastic to see younger players get the opportunity last week and then to distinguish themselves. Remember Armagh were coming off the back of beating us and Tyrone in the O’Fiaich Cup so they were in a reasonably good place. We put six goals past them in two games which was a real positive.”
The Derry team to play Down in Newry on Sunday (2pm) is;
1. Thomas Mallon (Loup)
2. Ronan Murphy (B’screen)
3. Oisin Duffin (Ballinderry)
4. Conor McGrogan (Newbridge)
5. Neil Forester (S’town)
6. Conor Nevin (B’derry)
7. Peter Hagan (Banagher)
8. Patrick Kearney (Swatragh)
9. Aidan McLaughlin (Craigbane)
10. Gavin O’Neill (Banagher)
11. Ryan Bell (Ballinderry)
12. Carlus McWilliams (Ballinascreen)
13. Niall Loughlin (Greenlough)
14. Emmett McGuckin (Magherafelt)
15. Benny Heron (B’screen)
16. Conor McLarnon (M’felt)
17. Michael Warnock (Glen)
18. Enda Lynn (Greenlough)
19. Patrick Coney (Loup)
20. Mark Lynch (Banagher)
21. James Kielt (Kilrea)
22. Conor McAtamney (Swatragh)
23. Mark Craig (Dungiven)
24. Ciaran Mullan (Coleraine).