My Kieran Lynch
DAMIAN McErlain will be hoping that his second stint as Derry minor manager goes as well as his first, as the Oak Leaf County get their championship campaign underway this week.
In McErlain’s first spell, between 2015 and 2017, Derry won two Ulster titles and reached the All-Ireland, losing out to a David Clifford masterclass in Croke Park, as the prodigy scored an incredible 4-4 from play as Kerry reigned supreme.
Whatever about the past, it’s all about the present for McErlain as he looks to have his team prepared for the Ulster Championship, and says the mood is positive within the county.
“It’s good to be back,” he said.
“I’ve pulled in a good strong management team around me again and I’m enjoying it. Obviously Owenbeg is a positive place to be at the minute with the seniors winning the Ulster title last year.
“You’re seeing the fruits of so many of the lads we coached as minors now playing on that squad so the conveyor belt is there, the infrastructure and everything is good, from board level to the facilities we have.
“I’ve had a couple of years out, but it’s good to be back.”
Derry are coming into the championship in good form, having reached the final, and McErlain believes it provided his team ideal preparation.
“We got to try all our players throughout the league,” he said.
“So, it was good for everyone to get a competitive game, that’s important for all the lads in the squad as they’re training two or three times a week.
“We came up against a very strong Donegal side, they were very up for it and won in the end, but it was really good preparation heading into the championship.”
Derry will meet Donegal again, in their championship group, which appears on paper to be challenging for McErlain’s side, as Down, Fermanagh and Monaghan have also been drawn in their group.
“They’re tough games,” conceded McErlain.
“We’ve played Monaghan, Down and Donegal in the league already. We’ve full visibility of what we’re coming up against, they’re all very strong.
“On any given day any team will be fit to beat any other team. A tough group surely but it wouldn’t be the Ulster Championship if it wasn’t tough.”
Derry’s first encounter is an away trip to Down who lost against Monaghan and they’ll be looking towards their star players such as captain Fionn McEldowney to get the job done.
Johnny McGuckian, Conall Higgins and Cathal Spiers will also be key players. They were on the panel last year, and have Ulster final experience.
“We’re on the road to Newry on our first day out,” said McErlain.
“We played them in the league, things went well for us very early on in that game, but it’ll be a much different scenario when it comes to championship, as it always is.”