Ulster Minor Football Championship final
Derry v Tyrone
Sunday, Clones, 1.30pm
By Michael McMullan
DERRY must lift their game “a couple of levels” from their win over Cavan if they are to be really competitive against Tyrone in Sunday’s minor showdown in Clones.
That’s the view of Oakleafers’ manager Martin Boyle, now in this third season after leading the county to the 2020 All-Ireland title.
Last year it was Tyrone who were within touching distance of the Tom Markham Cup and they lock horns in the decider for the first time since 2007 when the Red Hands prevailed by the narrowest of margins.
Tyrone are the current league champions, having beaten Derry in the final thanks to late goals from Conan Devlin and skipper Eoin McElholm.
Johnny McGuckian did hit the net for Derry, but their comeback came up short.
“We didn’t know where we were and Tyrone were blowing everybody away in the league,” said Boyle, who will be without skipper Ryan McNicholl this weekend and has an injury doubt surrounding Eoin Scullion.
“They came through a really competitive ding dong game on Saturday night and that will only do them good.” Boyle said of Tyrone’s penalty shoot-out win over Donegal.
“We know we’ll have to go to another couple of levels above Saturday’s performance if we are to be really competitive with Tyrone.”
While aware of the Red Hand challenge, Boyle backs his side’s “mentality and attitude” to make them competitive this week.
“They take great pride in their performances. It’s about fine tuning them this week to get going on Sunday. It will be a big ask, but our boys are certainly capable of reaching that level of performance.”
Derry were 0-12 to 0-4 ahead at half-time in their semi-final, but had goalkeeper Ben O’Connor sent to the sin-bin for black card and Cavan had the margin down to four points during the final quarter.
Derry began to suffer with players going down with cramp before they tagged on two points to ease the pressure.
“Having watched the game back, it appeared more comfortable when it was live,” said Boyle, speaking after the squad’s recovery session at Owenbeg on Sunday.
“When you are on the line the clock goes slow and it was more controlled than our initial impression was,” he added, pointing to the facing into the breeze against a “damn good” Cavan side.
“They got more men behind the ball and were more defensive than in any other game we saw”, said Boyle, who was present at their win over Antrim and had watched footage from other games.
“They had their homework done; they had more men back and had a sweeper. They were a good team and, just as we knew it, had a lot of scoring forwards.”
Content with having three championship games under his belt, Boyle – while mentioning the week on week nature of their 2020 campaign – welcomed the extra week for getting through the ‘front door’.
The key is not picking up injuries and Boyle will survey some “bumps and bruises” this week.
Lavey defender Eoin Scullion missed their win over Donegal with a high injury, but he played 40 minutes of Sunday’s win before being replaced by Antain Donnelly.
“He was feeling it a bit so we’ll see how it settles before we make a call on him,” Boyle said. “He didn’t pull up, but he felt a bit of pain with it. We are glad he got 40 minutes because hasn’t done much of late.”
Derry will give Scullion every opportunity to prove his fitness before being enlisted into the “unforgiving place” that will be a packed Clones on Sunday.
Boyle is a fan of the ‘backdoor’ element of the earlier rounds of the Ulster Championship and is happy to have booked a spot in the final.
Derry will be able to avail of the safety net afforded to the provincial finalists. Ulster are paired with Munster in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, with Cork and Kerry set to do battle on Wednesday night.
The winner on Sunday will play the Munster runners up and vice versa.
It’s a golden generation on the minor front for Derry. Sunday is the county’s six decider in eight season at the grade, winning three of them. In the seven years before that, after the 2007 final, Derry won just two minor games in total.
Boyle credits previous managers Damian McErlain and Paddy Campbell (now in Donegal’s senior management team) for getting the ball rolling.
“It is a conveyor belt of talent, which is good,” he said. “A lot of the senior team is made up of boys that came through those minor teams, reaching and winning Ulster finals.
“It is really, really good. It is a standard for any aspiring county minor of what needs to be achieved and the expectations, which is good in one way. It is good to be back there, because there were a few lean years for sure.” Said Boyle, who agrees with Tyrone being the “benchmark” at minor level for so long, with seven Ulster and four All-Ireland titles from 1998 to 2010.
“They went through a few barren years and their win last year’s (Ulster title) was their first since 2012,” Boyle concluded.
“With the size of the county, Tyrone are always going to be seriously completive and we hope we can be competitive with them on Sunday, that’s the aim.”