Derry need to play the long game and go again

Shane McGuigan is dejected at the final whistle on Saturday in Owenbeg.
Shane McGuigan is dejected at the final whistle on Saturday in Owenbeg.

Monday morning’s All Ireland Qualifying Series Third Round draw will not have helped the mood in the Oak Leaf county.

The pain of defeat is never so raw as when it’s accompanied by the feeling of not doing yourself justice. Second half on Saturday, Derry didn’t do themselves justice in a game that was well within their capabilities to win.

Waking Monday then to find out Laois had been handed a home draw against Offaly will only have compounded an opportunity missed.

And with big disappointment often comes even bigger over reaction.

The various social media channels were awash with opinion after the game, opinions varying from cautious to thoughtful to ridiculous and beyond.

Context is everything after a game like Saturday. No one needs to tell Damian McErlain nor his players they didn’t perform to their maximum. Any one of the 3,000 strong Owenbeg crowd who watched the Derry players trudge off can testify how devastated they were. It was written on every face.

It won’t matter to a single player that their primary goal for the season - promotion - was achieved in some style.

It won’t matter that of 15 competitive games played this season, they won 11 and lost four, three of which were to last year’s All Ireland finalists, Tyrone, a fixture in which they improved game on game.

It won’t matter that those who have watched Derry consistently this season have seen an improving side, a team on an upward trajectory with a solid base upon which to add the succession of excellent, Ulster Championship winning underage squads.

That doesn’t matter after a championship defeat. Especially not an ‘if only’ one like Saturday.

But disappointment shouldn’t mean dismantling the plan.

Think back 12 months. The pain of relegation and a Championship season over after two games. Derry were starting from a low base this season and things don’t change overnight. This is evolution not revolution.

Saturday was probably the only time this season that this Derry team let themselves down but a bad 35 minutes does not negate the previous 14 and a half games.

If anything, Derry’s performances this season were guilty of artificially raising expectations too quickly while the county’s proud history often means counties like Laois (who will be in Division Two next season after successive promotions, remember) are grossly underestimated. Not by the management or players, but by the Oak Leaf football watching public.

This season was the first ‘true’ season Derry have had in a number of years. Slaughtneil’s unprecedented success has necessitated patched up preparations over recent years and one season is not enough in the modern game to bridge the gap but that does not mean progress has not been made. It has.

The top, top level remains a way off but 35-odd poor minutes of football shouldn’t derail a project moving in the right direction.

Promotion needs to be the primary target again next season in a Division Three that will include Down and Cork so the management must remain steadfast with what was always a three to five year plan. Knee jerk actions are the privilege of supporters.

Derry need to play the long game and go again.