By Michael McMullan
DERRY’S semi-final battle with Donegal was exactly what his side needed ahead of Sunday’s showdown (Armagh 6pm) with Monaghan, insists Oakleaf minor boss Damian McErlain.
The Oakleafers are in their seventh minor decider in nine seasons since McErlain’s class of 2015 – with Shane McGuigan, Conor Glass and Shea Downey on board – ended a 13-year wait for glory.
Derry’s only blot this year was Donegal’s sucker-punch to snatch victory in the dying embers of the league final.
Since then, Derry had an average winning margin of close to 18 points per game across the championship group stages
They needed to ride a third-quarter storm against Donegal to turn a 0-6 to 0-4 lead into victory with a five-minute flourish late on.
“It was what we expected with Donegal being more battle-hardened after coming off the back of three full blown championship matches before they played us,” McErlain said.
“They brought a tempo to it so we knew we’d have to dig deep within ourselves to impose ourselves throughout and we did that. It wasn’t a comfortable hour, but it was good to get through it.
McErlain referenced a botched goal chance before half time. A point would’ve left the score 0-5 to 0-1 at the break instead of a breakaway Donegal score to leave two points between the teams.
“It was exactly what we wanted,” he said of the test “There was the risk of this coming in and Donegal would be at a higher pitch than us and they were to an extent. We coped and showed the discipline in our game and the composure to get over the line.”
Speaking on Tuesday evening, McErlain was waiting on the progress of Cahal McKaigue’s ankle injury before making a call on any involvement in the final.
“Cahal is nearly there and we are hopeful that he does come through in the week,” he said, also hinting at the level of improvement his side can make.
Coming into the week of a final with areas to brush up is perfect and McErlain is a fan of the week-on-week nature of their season. In their 15 weeks, they’ve had 13 games with two sessions every week to address whatever is needed.
Now it’s down to one game and a Monaghan team who took Tyrone all the way before winning on penalties.
“This is the third time we have played each other so both teams are fairly familiar with each other,” McErlain said, adding how the Farney side will get a “big lift” from knocking champions Tyrone.
On Derry’s recent run of getting to minor finals with regularity, McErlain was quick to point out the work in clubs as the barometer of progress.
“It shows the consistency in the clubs who are developing players and bringing them through who are at that level of quality,” he said.
“That’s what is happening in Derry at the minute and the quality of player seems to be coming through steadily.”