By Michael McMullan
DERRY minor skipper Fionn McEldowney has embraced the busy schedule of games the new-look championship format has offered and is expecting a totally different Monaghan side in Sunday’s Ulster final.
Just two points separated the sides in the first game of the season in Emyvale when Derry edged out the Farney County three months ago.
The Oakleafers were1-14 to 0-6 winners when they crossed paths in the championship group stages and they’ve had 13 games in a 15-week period, but McEldowney isn’t complaining.
“That’s what everyone wants, all teams just want is to be playing matches,” he said. “We’d usually have 20-minute games among everyone at training with two teams going at it, so it gives you a good competitive match.”
McEldowney is one of a handful of survivors from last year’s side beaten in the Ulster final by Tyrone and edged out narrowly by eventual All-Ireland champions Galway in the semi-final.
With a new crop forming this season, McEldowney is buzzing with how the team has been growing.
“It is deadly craic and everybody has got to know each other well,” said the Sleacht Néill man. “They know everyone’s habits and we’ve got tighter as the campaign has gone on.”
A dual Ulster Schools All-Star this year, he plays with a maturity way beyond his years. Son of former Derry dual player Colin McEldowney, he’s a chip of the old block.
With uncles Francis and Fergal McEldowney also championship winners with the Emmet’s, GAA is part and parcel of everyday life.
Looking back to last summer’s Ulster final brings back the regret of a defeat to Tyrone stemming from the concession of four goals and not getting out of the blocks.
Part of a double header with Derry seniors’ win over Donegal, he admits they struggled with the occasion and magnitude before manager Martin Boyle regrouped for a stellar second half performance that was just too little too late.
“The moment took us by surprise, we only played for a half that day,” McEldowney said. “Then you look at Derry seniors, they were playing two good halves of football.”
He feels that experience will be a benefit and also speaks of the excitement in the county with back-to-back Ulster senior titles, with the hurlers also in the Christy Ring Cup final.
“It’s a deadly buzz going up to Owenbeg on a Tuesday and a Thursday and seeing all them out training the same as everyone else, it gives you a great feeling,” he said.
But this week is about one thing. Monaghan and going one better than last year’s final defeat. It’s Derry’s seventh final in nine seasons, but McEldowney knows exactly what is coming. Their semi-final battle with a Donegal team easily 16 days earlier in the group stages.
“This is what every player wants,” he said of the chance to win an Ulster title. “It is completely different to the other times we played them and they are going to be a different team too.
“They are going to be wanting his Ulster title like us. It was the same as Donegal, we knew they were going to be a different team in the semi-final. That was our third time playing them and knew they were going to be up for it.”