By Michael McMullan
DERRY have one more step to make in pursuit of the county’s sixth All-Ireland minor title and it’s a familiar one.
Sunday weeks’ all-Ulster showdown (BOX-IT Athletic Grounds, 1pm) is Derry’s fourth meeting of the season with Monaghan.
Oakleafers’ manager Damian McErlain expected a “quality” Farney side to get the job done in Saturday’s semi-final with Kerry.
Derry’s side of the bargain was victory over Dublin to set up a rematch of the Ulster final at the same venue with extra time and penalties needed to separate the teams in a Derry win.
Derry were on the right side of an 11-point win in the group stages and ironically 1-14 to 2-9 victors in the first competitive game of the season.
“The two teams know each other really well,” McErlain said.
“I was down watching them yesterday (Saturday’s semi-final win over Kerry) and I expected them to win.
“They have huge support and they are a good team. They have improved all year, the same way we have.
“They are a quality side; a big physical side and it will be a big game for them…their first final in 84 years. They will bring that energy with them.”
Derry’s season has offered a bit of everything. After losing the league final to a late, late Donegal goal they waltzed to an Ulster semi-final rematch they needed a grind to see off the same opponents.
The final saw Derry hit for three goals and had the game won only for a late Farney burst before Conall Higgins forced a penalty shoot-out with the last kick when it looked like Monaghan had both hands on the cup.
The young Oaks accounted for Galway easily before riding an early Dublin storm to boss the game with 14 men. They’ve seen it all and McErlain said the Ulster final win – and the nature of it – was “massive” for his side.
“That’s what development is within a group like this,” said the Derry boss, in his second stint in charge.
“That’s what builds them for greater days and bigger days, the next day and the next day after that, and the rest of their careers…that’s all part of it.”
Derry hadn’t won a minor title in 13 years until McErlain’s 2015 squad – with current senior stars Conor Glass and Shane McGuigan – ended the drought.
“It means the county is doing something right,” McErlain said of being back in the All-Ireland showpiece.
“Clubs are producing the right level of player, the houses and homes are producing the right level of player.
“It means the structures are right in the clubs,” he added of the level the players are at by the time they arrive at the gate for Owenbeg for minor trials.
“You can see some of the quality we have there and it’s great, the momentum and that.”
One (recent) minor final isn’t enough to keep producing for a senior team, we need to keep the lads coming through.”