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Gerard O'Kane

GERARD O’KANE: The Derry 2020 minors need to embrace this feeling

ALTHOUGH it is 11 days past at this stage, it is difficult for me to write this column and not dedicate some inches to the recent Derry Minor All-Ireland victory.

Sunday week ago saw Derry claim their first title in 19 year and their fifth overall. Chatting to some spectators who were at the game – and while it can be easy to get caught up in the emotion of the present – the commentary was a most exciting victory and it would be hard to argue with that.

The game went right down to the wire and required a last-penalty to recover from the hammer blow of a Kerry a minute earlier. No wonder, it kept the supporters on the edge of their seats.

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Given my own experiences as a minor, I have to say it was a special day for me and it does allow some reminiscing and brought back some great memories.

For the large part of my career I was known as ‘the former Derry minor-winning captain’. For a long time I maybe resented this tag a little as I felt it maybe took away from my 12-plus seasons playing senior intercounty football yet I was only getting remembered for what I had done as a 17-year-old.

Then as time moved on I thought, ‘hold on a minute, there are only three other men to have done that before me in Derry’ – Tom Diamond, Dermot McNicholl and Gary Coleman. All men with legendary status in the game in Derry. If I am to be remembered in the same category as them men then there are a lot worse ways to be labeled.

I now look back and see just how lucky I was and it was an absolute honour and privilege to be part of something so special at a young age. The Derry minor team from last week will hopefully feel the same.

There is no doubt they are still on a high, that energy you get from being part of something like that can take a long time to dissipate. They will all go back to their clubs, some of them will have tasted club senior action for the first time over the weekend and no doubt there will be others keen to bring those lads back down to earth with a bang.

Listening to the Cork u-20 manager Keith Ricken talk last week about how it can take so long to get young lads up off the ground and inspired and how he had no intention of bringing them back down to earth was so uplifting. Let them enjoy their moment and bask in the glory and take it all in. Moments like that in sport are few and far between so he is completely right.

Throughout a career your bad days will far outweigh the good as only one team can win. Therefore when you do achieve something you have worked so hard for enjoy every minute of it.

As we move forward then and look towards this week’s Ulster final, I hope we are in for a game that matches the two semi-finals.

What a 24 hours we had. Both games had everything you would want and they were proper contests. All four teams emptied the tank and put everything on the line both physically and mentally. There was no holding back or taking time to figure each other out.

The two winners, Monaghan and Tyrone, will go into the game this weekend full of confidence. They are both playing a great brand of football at the minute. In terms of calling a winner, it is literally 50-50.

I remember writing a column a few years ago where I commented that I don’t think Monaghan get the credit they deserve in terms of their actual footballing ability. The first thing a lot of commentators point to is their heart, desire, steel etc, but they have a fantastic bunch of players.

Right through their team they have teak-tough man-markers, ball-playing half-backs who can also defend, midfielders who can play ball but also do the dirty work and win primary possession and they have a number of forwards who can now take the burden off McManus a bit and keep opposition defences on their toes constantly.

The brand of football they play is enjoyable to watch, where they thrive on taking teams on and going at them from minute one.

Tyrone too are at a stage of their footballing lifecycle where they are starting to embrace that style of play a bit more.

In their games to dates they you can actively see a change in their style of play where they are no longer running back and retreating into defence to be in there before the ball is there. In some passages of play they are actively pressing high up the field in a bid to turn the ball over closer to the opposition’s goals. In doing so it means less ground to cover and less men to beat if they do get the turnover and increases their chances of creating goal-scoring opportunities.

The biggest problem their management team has at the moment is settling on a starting team. They have such an abundance of options and no truer is the saying it’s a 20-man game as to what Tyrone are producing. Their subs the last day out made a terrific impact and all of those guys who came on will be putting the pressure on to claim a starting berth on Saturday afternoon.

It promises to be a terrific game of football and putting my neck on the line I am going to say Tyrone by one or two points.

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