McErlain knows what is coming around the final corner

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

By Michael McMullan

DERRY minor manager Damian McErlain is under no illusions of the task that awaits his charges in Sunday’s All-Ireland final.

Within hours of overseeing his side’s hard fought semi-final win over Kerry, McErlain was on the road again to see Armagh’s victory over Mayo.

The Connacht champions were a fancied side but McErlain’s “gut feeling” was about how’d they would struggle with Armagh. And so it transpired.

“You’re going to Longford expecting a 50-50 game and not sure who’s coming out of it,” McErlain said of his scouting mission.

“We hadn’t seen Mayo at all, we hadn’t got to play them in a friendly or anything. It was pretty apparent early on, really early on, that Armagh were just going to overrun them from an organisation point of view and overall just quality.

“I had the gut feeling that it might be the case, that Mayo hadn’t faced a team as well drilled and coached as that and how would they cope and that’s exactly how it turned out.”

Very often, underage level is about managing the mind-set as much as anything else. Derry have a third of last year’s winning team at their disposal. With that comes chatter of retaining titles and the pressure that goes with that.

“Once you win a few games then there was the vibe that you were strong again and everybody was out to test themselves against you,” McErlain said. Derry were now the barometer.

“The pleasing thing for us is that we so far have come up with the answers,” he added before giving a final word to Sunday’s opponents.

“We’ve one more massive test to come down the line at us, a team that has improved every match in the championship, basically right from the first league match.

“They’re a very, very united outfit, a good quality side and brilliantly managed and sensibly managed. There’s no hiding the challenge there is ahead.”

With the mention of tough assignments, Derry have been well road-tested. Tyrone asked plenty of questions in the Ulster semi-final.

Armagh’s goal shook up the final with Derry needing to dig deep in the dying moments to keep their hands on the Murray Cup.

Dublin looked to have weathered the storm on three separate occasions only for Derry to put themselves in a winning position. It was the same in their semi-final with Kerry.

“There are learnings in them all,” McErlain said of the Oakleafers’ path to the final. “Some of them we address before the matches and they still happen even at this level.

“At minor level, you always feel that the lads don’t believe anything until they see it happen for themselves.”

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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