Oz-bound Conor Glass not in frame for Derry's U21 defence
Eirgrid Ulster U21 FC preliminary round: Antrim v Derry
(Wednesday, Celtic Park, 8pm)
AFL-BOUND Conor Glass will not be allowed to play for Derry U21s in their Ulster Championship campaign, which begins on Wednesday with the visit of Antrim to Celtic Park.
The Glen man is set for Hawthorn once he completes his studies at St Patrick’s, Maghera, for whom he has been starring in their run to another MacRory Cup final. He was also allowed to play for Watty Graham’s as they successfully defended their Ulster U21 club title last month. But he and clubmate Jack Doherty will both miss Wednesday night’s tie with the Saffrons, along with injured trio Eamon McGill, Conor McDevitt (both hamstring) and Paul McNeill (ankle).
Doherty is being allowed to concentrate on what will be his third MacRory Cup final, although talented forward Shane McGuigan has opted out of joining up with Derry U21s when Maghera’s campaign ends.
“Over Christmas, I had a conversation with Conor and he was very keen to play U21s,” said Derry boss Fergal McCusker.
“He was going out and hoping to talk to them out there, but it became very clear they were drawing the line at the club U21, it was going to be very difficult to convince them to let him play county U21. It’s disappointing, but you have to get on with it. We’d love to have him.”
McCusker and his management team - which includes Oak Leaf legend Enda Muldoon - spent months trawling the county in preparation for this campaign. They trialled almost 80 players and have retained a youthful squad of 38 that has Niall Loughlin, Niall Toner, Peter Hagan and Jack Doherty overlapping with Damian Barton’s senior panel.
It sounds like a big number but, as McCusker explains, it’s proved essential that they have carried so many players: “Any time we try to play a 15-a-side in-house game, it’s difficult. With guys working and other commitments, it’s always challenging, so you need to carry that amount.”
Challenge games against Tyrone, Cavan, Down, Armagh (twice), Derry minors, St Patrick’s, Maghera’s MacRory team and Glen’s U21s - a side which McCusker had a big formative hand in - have them battle-ready for Sean McGoldrick’s side.
“We’ve trained diligently, three times a week. We tried to go Monday and Friday so that we were only bringing them out of Belfast one night a week because there were so many up there," he added.
“We tried to get them as much football as we can at training. Obviously, you’re conscious that you need a wee bit of fitness work. I think it’s great the way it comes at you. If you happen to beat Antrim tomorrow night, you have to very quickly readjust to what you’re doing for Donegal. After that, you have the winners of Cavan and Tyrone coming through. It’s definitely the harder side of the draw.
“But it’s better than waiting around three or four weeks as you could in the senior championship. You can get some momentum. You can be dumped out on your backside very quickly too.”
Niall Keenan and Michael McEvoy have come straight out of last year’s minors into the starting defence, with Keenan’s brother Aidan also starting at corner-forward.
Ciaran McCloy has also managed to grab the number one jersey, having been overlooked for the initial squad, only to impress sufficiently after being called in to dislodge clubmate Callum Mullan-Young.
Terence O’Brien is the only one of Wednesday night’s 24-man squad with senior inter-county championship experience. They are captained by his Loup clubmate Jason Rocks.
Derry: C McCloy; N Keenan, T McCrossan, O Hegarty; J Rocks, M McEvoy, P Hagan; J Bradley, M McGrath; D Tallon, T O’Brien, J Donaghy; N Toner, N Loughlin, A Keenan; Subs: C Mullan-Young, R Lee, R McElwee, E Devine, D Curran, C Convery, O Duffin, R O’Neill, P McAtamney