By Michael McMullan
DAMIAN McErlain said Saturday’s All-Ireland minor quarter-final is a “big task” for his Derry side against a Galway team with five of last year’s winning team on board.
Saturday’s game (Carrick on Shannon, 3.30pm) is a repeat of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final where Derry lost by a point despite a spirited comeback.
McErlain, in his second stint as minor boss, feels Saturday’s opponents are better than anything his side have met in Ulster.
“There is very little between in them and Mayo…they’ll take beating,” McErlain said of the two Connacht teams who contested last year’s All-Ireland final.
Derry have captain Fionn McEldowney, John Boyle, Conall Higgins, Johnny McGuckian and Cahir Spiers back from last year.
For Galway, former Bellaghy underage player Shay McGlinchey is still underage and is the skipper. Defenders Vinny Gill and Ross Coen are back, with last year’s panellists Olan Kelly and Charlie Cox now regulars.
Cox (1-14 this season) and Sean Walsh (2-3) are dangermen in an attack Derry will need to keep a lid on. Another player, Jack Henaghan bagged 2-6 but has had injury problems and didn’t feature in their Connacht decider.
Derry won their 16th Ulster title last month, but needed goalkeeping heroics from Jack McCloy with two saves in a penalty shoot-out before Conall Higgins stepped forward to convert the winning kick.
McErlain and the management gave the squad a night off training and had their homework started on Galway before the players reported to Owenbeg by the Thursday night.
“Once we relayed the step that was in front of us, it didn’t take long to manage the mood and get the feet back down on the ground,” McErlain said. “The boys have full respect for what are going to be up against.”
Minutes after the final, Fionn McEldowney was already casting his mind on trying to go as far as possible, something McErlain feels is a “good sign” of a captain.
“Every team is the same,” the manager added of the ambition of getting hands on the Tom Markham Cup.
“There are eight quality sides left and we’ll get a better read on things by the time the weekend is over. You’ll get the odd surprise but that’s just minor football. It is a big task ahead.”
Derry benefited from getting 40 minutes into midfielder Cahal McKaigue on his way back from injury, with two vital catches central to steading the Oakleaf ship.
McKaigue replaced Tommy Rogers who rolled his ankle, but he was due back in full training this week ahead of Saturday’s trip west.
Last year, Tyrone were Ulster champions but lost to Kerry in Portlaoise before Derry put their Ulster final disappointment behind them to overturn Cork.
The five Derry players still will be aware of how an Ulster title counts for nothing in the new waters of the All-Ireland series.
McErlain also said there is a focus in the squad to improve on their Ulster final win over Monaghan, a game that saw them conceding their only three goals of the campaign.
“We have won Ulster and that was the ultimate aim,” he said. “We managed to basically not perform how we wanted to in the Ulster final and still negotiated a win and should’ve had it won in normal time.
“There is loads of learning and the boys know what they left behind in the match, they know what they need to improve on to keep going.
“It speaks of the ambition that they are trying to put that right and sit down this week.”