By Michael McMullan
DERRY minor manager Damian McErlain is full of praise for his side’s development and maturity but ranks unbeaten Dublin a “significant challenge” in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final (BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 5.30pm).
“The boys are in good form and looking forward to the challenge that is ahead,” McErlain said of the mood in the camp.
Derry are unbeaten since being hit for a late Donegal goal in the league final, something McErlain was a “great basis” for sharpening the focus ahead of the championship. Just like his last tenure when championship glory followed losing the 2015 and 2017 league finals.
Some of the facile wins in the championship group stages left Derry in a “precarious” position coming into a rematch with Donegal in the semi-final. Like the penalty shoot-out win over Monaghan, the intensity was a tremendous source of learning and development.
McErlain’s last tenure as minor boss was at u-18 and he hails the maturity of the current group despite being a year younger.
“Overall, this is a mature enough group and I am not just saying that,” McErlain said. “They settle their heads; they listen and they want to develop and they are not getting carried away.
“From that point of view, this group has shown a really good (level of) maturity.”
McErlain includes both the players not making the starting team and the matchday 24 in saying that.
“For lads to keep their hunger with it, they have been mature about that too and it is a credit to them all,” he said.
“The whole group works hard together, the training is top notch and that is credit to the whole squad.”
Derry were 1-13 to 0-4 winners over reigning champions Galway in the last round. There were areas to pick at for improvement, but the management were content with the controlled performance.
There was the pleasing aspect of a clean sheet and shutting down Galway after being hit for three Monaghan goals in the Ulster final, the only goals they conceded since the league final.
“Defensively we were sound again, so it was great to get back to that sense of control,” McErlain explained.
With their two tight Ulster games came the feedback from mistakes and video analysis. There was also the element of standing up and being counted. Decisions needed to be made on the spur of the moment.
“From that point of view, it develops them as players and people, confidence wise, off the pitch and on the pitch,” McErlain added.
Looking ahead to the semi-final and the Derry boss knows what is coming down the tracks. He has been impressed with that the Dubs have brought to the table.
“They are a big side, they have pace about them and they enjoy the open spaces,” he said. “They work really hard. They have shown they have a number of quality forwards who have scored heavily throughout Leinster.
“They scored 19 points in the final against Kildare. They have a real athleticism about them, you can see they have a real togetherness about them too.”
McErlain also touched on the Dubs’ hunger, delight and how they are following the tranche of “well-coached” Dublin teams.
“They present a significant challenge, that’s for sure but you are in an All-Ireland semi-final so that’s the way it is.”