McErlain hails Derry composure as Oakleafers set up third meeting with Armagh

By Michael McMullan

DERRY and Armagh will meet in the Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor final later this month, a third meeting of the counties this season.

The Oakleafers were comfortable winners over Armagh in the group stages with the Orchard County bouncing back to push them to the pin of their collar in the Ulster final, with Derry retaining their title.

It’s similar to last season when Derry and Monaghan met three times, including the Ulster and All-Ireland finals.

It was the same in Connacht in 2022 when Galway beat Mayo in the All-Ireland final.

McErlain was in attendance at Armagh’s comfortable win over a fancied Mayo side in their semi-final in Longford.

Speaking after Derry’s win in Mullingar on Saturday, McErlain was just happy to be in a position to take a look at the second semi-final.

“So this game (final) will be no different,” he said, before knowing Derry’s final opponents. “There will probably be a lot of the same messages about things we could improve on and turnovers and what not.

“The big thing is that the boys have the character and composure and quality to get over the line. Every team has asked us questions, but they’ve found a way to get over it.”

Derry needed to dig deep in their Ulster final win over Armagh and it was the same in the All-Ireland quarter-final win over Dublin.

In Saturday’s semi-final, Kerry were 1-7 to 1-3 ahead with minutes to go to half time after making full use of the breeze to close down Derry’s kick-out.

James Sargent shaved the margin back to three points by the interval but Kerry goalkeeper Kacper Robak was the hero, saving three certain Derry goals with two of them double saves.

“The whole thing was about composure,” McErlain summed up of his Derry’s win. “In the first half, we had a two or three goal chances and we didn’t take them.”

“Against the breeze, and the breeze was significant, things were much harder to do, break out of defence, overlapping runs and shots.

“That all just got a wee bit harder when you’re playing against the breeze. Kerry probably found that a wee bit tougher in the second half.”

After going without a score for 10 minutes, McErlain felt James Sargent’s 45 just before half-time was a vital score.

“We were content going three down,” McErlain said, highlighting how Derry got a shot off from all but one of their attacks.

“We knew that if we just kept our heads and kept the composure, we would tap over the points. We did it really quickly.

“We came out after half-time and scored three on the bounce just straightaway to settle the heads. There was no panic setting in.”

Derry were level within four minutes before Kerry pulled ahead again to ask more questions of the champions’ credentials.

“Again, we showed the couple of answers, which is the best part of it,” McErlain added. “There were big performances there, even from Caomhan (McNally) and Cody (Rocks) who came in.

“Padraig Haran had a yellow card so we couldn’t risk that any further. If you go down to 14 men against a side like that, you’re under serious P (pressure).

“There was nothing to do with Padraig’s performance. It showed you two boys come in and just were really good.”

For all Derry’s efforts, they weren’t able to shake off Kerry and McErlain felt they began to get “a decision or two” from referee Alan Coyne who he felt wasn’t consistent on over carrying decisions with Kerry getting a rub of the green.

“We coped with it, we kept it within us and we still showed that composure was the only word we used really at half-time,” McErlain pointed out.

Our All-Ireland minor coverage is brought to you in association with Electric Ireland.

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