DERRY may have lived up to their billing as league champions on Sunday, but the win over Donegal has only increased the pressure on the county to claim a first Ulster title in a decade, according to midfielder Joe Diver.
Paddy Crozier’s side approached the weekend’s trip to Ballybofey knowing that their sixth league title would count for nothing if they repeated Donegal’s experience last summer by failing to make inroads into the provincial campaign.
“The pressure is still on, if not even more so,” insisted the marketing executive from Bellaghy. “We have to back ourselves and if we fail to go on from here now it will actually be even worse. We can’t let that happen.
“It was an important win, but nothing is won yet. We had to win it. It was just one of those days where we couldn’t lose. The pressure was on us and this shows we are capable of dealing with that now. In the past we weren’t.”
Derry will be aware that Donegal won their opening Ulster Championship fixture last year after their own league success, before coming a cropper in the semi-final.
But Derry’s tale isn’t quite identical. Twelve months ago, Donegal got out of jail against Armagh in Ballybofey in a game they never deserved to win. No-one can say Derry weren’t full value for their victory at the same venue this time around.
“The main thing we focused on this year was our mental attitude to games and consistency. You can’t go out one week and put in a good performance and then not do the same the week after.
“The same boys can’t play well all the time but we have always had the footballers. We have some fantastic footballers. You just have to look at Paddy Bradley. He is one of the best forwards in Ireland.
“We just had to get ball into him and we did that (against Donegal). If we can keep doing that and get our main ball players like Conleth Gilligan and Enda Muldoon on the ball we can win matches.”
Against both Donegal and Kerry, Derry have displayed a worrying tendency to stutter through the opening passages of games but they have been heartened by their reaction to adversity on both occasions.
Crozier praised his player’s character after Sunday’s game when his side turned around a three-point half-time deficit but the respect goes both ways, and Diver rightly talked up his manager’s contribution to their latest success.
“Changes were made at half-time. Paddy Crozier is an intelligent man. He put in the right players at the right time. James Conway came into midfield and made a great contribution. That was what we needed, to win some vital ball.”
Though he waves off praise of his own contribution – “I didn’t play Donegal by myself” – Diver gave a masterclass of midfield play as the afternoon wore on. With Fergal Doherty already recognised as one of the best centre fielders in the country, Derry are well served in the engine room as they face into the Ulster semi-final against Fermanagh in three weeks’ time.
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