When Joe Brolly penned Derry football’s obituary in response to last year’s 11-point Ulster championship loss to Tyrone, it was a step too far for some of the dearly departed.
Referee: M Deegan, Laois
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Witty as his scripted death notice might have been, describing the county as having “passed away without fuss, May 22, 2016 at her home in Celtic Park surrounded by her loving family after a long illness”
it stung the men who had followed Brolly into an Oak Leaf jersey, and were proud to do so.
“It does hurt a wee bit,” says wing-back Neil Forrester.
“Joe put in that death notice... one game! We were judged on one game last year. It was just something I took away and it didn’t sit well with me. It was one game and we were totally written off.”
Derry came back to life in the All-Ireland qualifiers and beat Louth, Meath and Cavan. They got on a roll, beating Cavan in Kingspan Breffni Park, to set up a highly winnable fourth round clash with Tipperary.
Forrester seized his chance.
“I think I reposted it (death notice) on Twitter after the third win saying ‘this is the kind of character and fight that Derry people, and us players have. The type of people we really are.
“I take great pride in playing for Derry. Maybe it’s because I come from the city and there’s not that many have done before. It was Paul O’Hea before me and I really looked up to him.
“Marty Dunne got a spell in the county senior panel. Derry City men leading the way. I took inspiration from those boys.”
The high-scoring extra-time shoot-out against Tipperary was a thriller, but at the end of a breathless 90 minutes the Munster men were going to Croke Park and Derry were going home.
Forrester admits “we felt we left it there” but ultimately, pride was restored for a while at least.
It wasn’t long before further scrutiny was heaped upon them.
Over the winter a raft of players decided not to commit for 2017 with around a dozen making themselves unavailable.
A couple of others are injured, but it’s left them heading into tomorrow’s Ulster SFC rematch with Tyrone hopelessly short of numbers and experience.
Relegation from Division Two in the last seconds of the campaign was painful. Damian Barton’s side snatched a late winning goal to sink Fermanagh but when word filtered through that Down had also struck late to draw with Cork, it left them with yet another blow to absorb.
“It took a while to clear the heads after that one,” Forrester says.
“Points difference took us down in the end.
“It’s a tough ask because Tyrone are a Division One team and we are classed now as a Division Three team.
“Maybe Tyrone are expected to deliver because they’ve given us a couple of beatings the last few times we’ve played them.
“That’s fair enough because the league table doesn’t lie and it really is up to us to raise our game. We have to get to that level but in the past we’ve caused upsets so that’s what we are going for.”
Forrester is familiar with the concept of having to triumph over the odds.
After making his county debut under John Brennan in 2012 at the ripe old age of 26, he was cut adrift by Brian McIver who told him, politely no doubt, that he couldn’t shoot.
“It hurt at the time and it stung,” he recalls. “I went away and worked and worked at it and it got me right and I got back onto his panel.
“I scored a point against Galway on my first game back I got great satisfaction from that.”
He will reflect on 2006 ahead of tomorrow’s game and memories of how Derry went to Omagh and held Tyrone’s All-Ireland champions scoreless for the first half.
“I was asked as a city man whether it was Derry v Donegal for me but no, growing up it was always Derry-Tyrone for me.
“No matter if it was McKenna Cup or Championship it was always blood and thunder.
“Unfortunately last year we didn’t show the fight that we should have but it’s up to us to be really strong-willed and show character now.”
Do that, and maybe Derry football won’t be content to Rest In Peace after all.
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