AS the dust settles on the Ulster Final from two weeks ago there seems to have been a change in the pecking order of Ulster football, or has there?
After Armagh’s impressive demolition job of Donegal in Clones last Sunday the general consensus is that Armagh are a team on the up and Donegal are a team on the decline, devoid of direction and with a few players looking stale after being on the road for eight or nine years.
But if I take you back to seven weeks ago after their encounter in Ballybofey would this also have been people’s thoughts?
Most would have thought it the case that Armagh have flattered to deceive and that Donegal showed them who really are the big boys of Ulster football.
Imagine we still had the format of the last few years with a knockout championship: Armagh would not have had a chance to redeem themselves. A 17-point swing in a matter of seven weeks is a massive difference and if nothing else it shows the competitive nature of the Ulster Championship in comparison to other provinces. That is a debate that does not need to be thrashed out as we all know the answer to that is a big part of the reason Ulster folk are so parochial about their championship.
Likewise with Armagh, the same can be said for Derry. After their mauling at the hands of Galway in league game number five, most of the commentary around the county was, ‘sure we are a team in development, it’s too early to go up to Division 1, we are not ready to compete.”
Now we have a All-Ireland quarter-final in nine days with a good chance of making a semi-final if we put in a performance similar to what we have been doing so far. I don’t think complacency will be an issue and they have enough experienced players and an experienced management team to get their feet back on the ground.
They have been playing a hard-running high-intensity game so far and I think Croke Park will suit them in that respect. From my own experience, once you break the line in Croke Park you have ground to eat up in front of you and if Derry can get the requisite runners supporting the play I expect to see overlap moves involving two or three runners from deep and having overloads all over the pitch.
I know since tickets were released 48 hours ago, there has been plenty of buzz around the county for this game. I think Derry took in the region of 13,000 to Clones and I’d expect something similar in terms of numbers for this game. What used to be a three or four-hour journey to Croke Park can be done in well under three hours.
There is a motorway the whole way from Toome right to the edge of the port tunnel in Dublin so I’d expect a steady stream of red and white to make their way down on Saturday for the match. Derry’s last big championship game in Croke Park was a quarter-final on a Saturday afternoon versus Dublin. Croke Park was a sell out that day of 82,000 and it was an amazing experience to be playing in front of that crowd on a sunny day.
Unfortunately my generation didn’t get many more of those days but no matter what way next week goes, I would expect that this current crop will get a fair few more days like the one they will have next Saturday.
For me at this stage of my life, it’s as much about the wee ones or ‘wains’ as we say in Derry. You often hear this being said but as a player you can be in your own bubble and never really appreciate this but it is so true.
I see it around Glenullin and even closer to home in our own family. Ten grandchildren, but five of them are at an age to appreciate and enjoy days out supporting Derry and that is all they talk about at the minute. It really does transport me back to my own childhood at that age, a time where Derry seemed to have big games every year and my own father made sure that as children we were at all of or as many of them as possible.
I made the conscious decision this year to be the same with my wee lad who was 10 last week and he is loving it. He has favourite players and can name a few of the team, wants their signatures etc. It’s at moments like this that I don’t mind him telling me I am no longer his favourite player but that is a small price to pay for Derry’s continued success!