Derry motivated to go one step further

Electric Ireland Minor Football Championship Final
Derry v Armagh
Sunday, O’Neill’s Healy Park, 2pm

By Michael McMullan

SUNDAY is the final step of James Sargent’s underage Derry career that has been laced with memorable days.

They looked to have both hands on the 2023 league title until Donegal’s Eoghan Scott struck for goal. There was no time to recover but it was a reality check to jolt their season to the next level.

Derry bounced back to win the Ulster and All-Ireland titles. For Sargent, he’ll take time to think about it somewhere in the future.

Being an All-Ireland winner is nice but it’s not the six inches in front of his face as he sat in Owenbeg last week.

“I suppose we’re all just motivated to go that one step further,” said Sargent at last week’s open evening before starting their preparations for a third date with Armagh of the season.

“Some of the boys coming in this year, they all looked and probably thought of last year and wished it could be them.

“It’s good to get back there. It doesn’t come around often. We’re just lucky to be there. It’s something you’re going to remember for the rest of your life. You have to go that one step further to make it special.”

The Lavey youngster’s first memory was the buzz in Croke Park as Stephen Cluxton nailed the winning kick with the last action of the 2011 All-Ireland final. These were the days he wanted.

“You grow up, five up, whatever, just dreaming of playing for your county. When you’re finally there, it’s a privilege to play,” he said of the excitement of pulling on the Derry jersey.

Last year’s minor All-Ireland win was special but it’s parked. Sargent is one of eight players eyeing a second medal this weekend but there is a new cohort of players now wanting their own taste.

Now, it’s about Armagh. It’s about Omagh on Sunday. Everything else is history now.

“You never really think about it, but I suppose sometimes you have to take a step back and realise what you’ve done,” Sargent concluded about last year’s success.

“It’s more just the excitement and mood around the whole panel rather than us eight.”

Last year, Sargent had three battles with Monaghan on the glory trail in the same way Sunday is their third installment of Armagh this season.

They’ll know each other inside out but the Derry skipper doesn’t think much about that. When you get to a final, you take what you get.

The management team will have their homework done. Sargent, a watcher of games himself, will take a look at his own patterns of Armagh. Now it’s about putting their best foot forward.

“It’s something to really embrace,” Sargent sums up about playing in another important game.

“I’m personally really excited and can’t wait to get out there. Every day towards it, the hype builds up and you just can’t wait to get out there next Sunday.”

Also, check out this week’s Gaelic Lives podcast as Monaghan minor manager Dermot Malone looks ahead to Sunday’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor final.

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