GAA Football

Eoin McNicholl leaves Derry panel as Ryan Bell and Benny Heron set for United States

Goalkeeper Eoin McNicholl has opted off the Derry squad. Picture by Seamus Loughran
Cahair O'Kane

DERRY are in the hunt for a second goalkeeper after Eoin McNicholl decided to opt off the panel - while the summer involvement of Ryan Bell and Benny Heron could be brief.

McNicholl, who was number one on the last Derry minor team to win the All-Ireland in 2002, has been a regular on recent squads but hasn’t started a Championship game since 2013. He has been involved in a toe-to-toe battle with Thomas Mallon for the number one jersey since the retirement of Barry Gillis in 2012.

Ryan Bell should be available for Derry’s Ulster Championship opener against arch-rivals Tyrone on May 22, but is set to travel to the US in June. It’s understood the Ballinderry forward plans to spend up to six weeks on holiday in New York.

With Derry in action again on the weekend of June 18/19, regardless of whether it’s an Ulster semi-final or a round 1A Qualifier, his availability beyond the Tyrone game is in serious doubt.

Benny Heron, meanwhile, is believed to be mulling over the potential of playing his football in the States this summer. The Irish News understands that the Ballinascreen forward is strongly considering heading to San Francisco in early July.

A teacher, Heron wouldn’t be able to travel until then, but his availability to Damian Barton for the meeting with Tyrone is in doubt. If he was included on the Oak Leaf teamsheet for that game, he could not then receive a sanction to play in San Francisco until Derry’s Championship campaign was over.

Clubmates and former Derry team-mates Danny Devlin and Seamus Bradley are currently in the Californian city, and have both played for the Ulster club in San Francisco.

Heron has been a regular on Oak Leaf squads since making his debut against Laois in 2013 and was particularly prominent during Brian McIver’s reign. His expected departure also represents a major blow to his club - managed by former Tyrone player Liam Donnelly - who could be facing last year’s beaten finalists Coleraine in a first round knock-out Derry SFC game without his star player.

Coleraine brothers Barry and Colm McGoldrick have also opted out of the Derry panel in recent weeks, the latter having failed to properly recover from an injury picked up during Eoghan Rua’s run to the All-Ireland Junior club hurling final earlier this year.

It’s understood that Eoin McNicholl’s position as number one with his club Glenullin was under threat and that this contributed to his decision to leave the panel. McNicholl and Mallon have vied for the spot since Gillis retired, with the Glenullin man winning the battle in 2013, but finding himself second choice in Brian 
McIver’s other two seasons in charge.

Damian Barton rotated his goalkeepers in the early part of this season, but Mallon appeared to have again taken control of the battle following Derry’s Allianz National Football League defeat by Tyrone in Healy Park. The Loup custodian began their last three league games, which saw Derry draw with Laois and Meath before losing to Armagh on the final day.

Michael O’Kane (Swatragh) and Ciaron O’Boyle (Lavey) had both been involved in the early part of the season, but both opted out ahead of the league.

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