Barton: League campaign is full focus for Derry ahead of opener

By Michael McMullan

THE very mention of last season’s All-Ireland final replay and Derry ending their famine brings the excitement into Áine Barton’s voice.

She recites moments from their historical Saturday like it was yesterday but Derry have largely parked their Senior Championship return later in the season.

Now, their focus is fully on the league with Carlow coming down the tracks this weekend. The mood in the camp is “really good” with the hard slog of preseason already in the tank.

Retaining PJ O’Mullan and his management team allowed them to get out of the blocks early. Eight of last year’s squad stepped away for different reasons but a dozen have joined with the Sleacht Néill players answering their county call.

“Everyone has bonded really well,” Barton said of the Derry camp. “We had a bit of team bonding which is nice to get everyone back together. So far, so good.”

When the championship season comes along, Derry have been reminded how much their game needs polished up. Any unforced errors are flagged up as something they’ll not get away with against the best teams in the game.

“In terms of goals, the league is the only thing we are focusing on at the minute,” Barton clarified.

“The goal is to win it and get Division One status for the league next year.

“We were disappointed last year (in the league) but in terms of performance, we probably didn’t do enough. We learned a lot from that to go into the championship.”

Another hallmark of the Derry journey has been the tight corners they’ve found themselves. They’ve beaten and lost to Meath in the league.

There was a championship semi-final defeat to Cork in 2022 that cut deep. They needed extra-time to see off Kilkenny at the same stage last year before the final went all the way to a replay.

“It wasn’t something we dwelled on until the amount of times we were in tight games last year,” Barton said of their rollercoaster moments.

In the end, the big plays came down to both mentality and the level of conditioning needed to make the right decisions in the crunch moments.

“When push comes to shove, that’s whenever the better team comes out on top,” she said.

“I definitely think it will stand to us, the mentality, we have.

“I don’t think it is overly confident of me to say, we are one of the favourites, if not the favourite,” she adds of the perception of Derry in this year’s league.

“It is important for us to not get ahead of ourselves and know that no game is over until the final whistle. That’s something we learned from last year.”

Barton is one of the longest serving members of the Derry squad, toiling away during the years without success.

With a huge turnover in the panel ahead of the 2023 season, it gives her comfort that the latest changing of the guard won’t derail them.

“We have gone through a big change like that before and adapted to it,” she outlines.

“When you look at some of the players coming in to replace the girls we lost from last year…the other girls are a huge loss by all means but the calibre of girls we have got coming in is very exciting.

“I don’t think any position is set in stone and there is a lot of competition which is really important at county level, the way it should always be.

“It will be interesting to see our lineout and the girls looking for spots pushing each other on.”

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