Ulster Football Championship: Damian Barton wants Derry resolve in Tyrone tie

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Derry manager Damian Barton
Ulster Championship: Derry v Tyrone
Date: Sunday, 28 May Venue: Celtic Park Throw-in: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Two NI; Live text and radio on BBC Sport website & commentary on Radio Ulster medium wave

Derry football manager Damian Barton has urged his players to face the tough challenge presented by champions Tyrone "head on" in Sunday's Ulster SFC game.

The Red Hands routed Derry 3-14 to 0-12 at the same stage last year.

As a player, Barton never took a backward step against Tyrone and he is demanding the same of his charges.

"Unless you are going to rise to the challenge, recognise it, react to it, there is no point in being there," said the Derry boss of the Celtic Park tie.

Barton makes no secret of the personal hurt he felt last year as two Ronan O'Neill goals and another three-pointer from Peter Harte effectively put the game to bed by half-time as Tyrone led 3-8 to 0-6.

Damian Barton watches his team being outplayed by Tyrone at Celtic Park last year
Damian Barton says Derry must "represent ourselves better than last year"

Barton rules out 'damage limitation' emphasis

But while some pundits feel the apparent gulf in class between the top-tier Ulster champions and a Derry team relegated to Division Three means that the Oak Leafers should be looking at damage limitation this weekend, Barton insists his players must aim for victory.

"We have to represent ourselves better than last year. I remember saying after the game that we weren't as fit, as fast or as strong as them.

"Only time will tell whether we get it right on the 28th. But certainly our focus is to win the game although it's going to be very difficult."

Sunday's match will be the seventh meeting between the counties since Barton took the Derry job in the autumn of 2015.

Tyrone have won all six encounters thus far although Barton points out that his side wasted a glorious chance to beat the Red Hands in the Dr McKenna Cup decider 16 months ago, when Mickey Harte's men eventually won the tempestuous game in extra-time.

"If we had cleared the wire in the last kick (of normal) time, we probably would have won it. That would have put a different perspective on the rest of our season, perhaps.

"But I don't really look at it that way. Every day, you have got to go out and perform. Tyrone will have to perform against us. Obviously, we will be starting as second favourites. We certainly will have to put in a big performance to beat them."

Tempers flare during Derry's win over Fermanagh in early April
Derry suffered relegation to Division Three despite a closing win over Fermanagh

Derry relegation increases Tyrone favouritism

Tyrone's already strong favouritism from Sunday's match was only increased by Derry's relegation to Division Three as home defeats by Down and Cork ultimately sealed the Oak Leafers' fate despite a closing last-gasp win over Fermanagh.

Barton says both the management and players were "seriously disappointed" by Derry's demotion.

"We scored quite a bit in the league but conceded far too much. The maths tell you everything."

With a number of players making themselves unavailable to the squad, much to Barton's frustration, the manager was left with little option but to attempt to blood inexperienced performers into the side.

"Some of the younger players dipped their toe in the water. It's a step learning curve for them but they are players who want to play for Derry.

"We have been stabilised by the return of some of the Slaughtneil players (after the completion of the All-Ireland Club campaign) which is a very positive thing.

"We didn't have them until the last two league games but at that stage we were playing catch-up."

Club rivalries a headache for Derry boss

While the Spring campaign was a huge disappointment, Barton points out that his side were "within a kick of the ball" of reaching last year's All-Ireland quarter-finals as they lost out 1-21 to 2-17 to eventually surprise semi-finalists Tipperary.

"Again, we conceded too much in that game so for sure we need to get our act together at the back - particularly against someone like Tyrone."

Barton's club managerial career in three counties saw him taking charge of Ballinderry, Loup, Burren, Donaghmore and Slaughtneil, in addition to a stint as UUJ boss, but says none of those roles prepared him for the onerous task that is inter-county management.

Reading between the lines, Barton's biggest headache has been securing access to players amid the fierce inter-club rivalries within the Oak Leaf County.

"I'm delighted to hear that Croke Park is thinking about dividing the county and club seasons a little bit better because it can be very divisive - particularly this time of year.

"There are a whole lot of facets that have made it (inter-county management) very difficult. It's one of the hardest things I have ever done emotionally but you get on with it. I'm still very proud and honoured to have the opportunity."

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