Derry in a better place than it has been in years says new boss Damian McErlain
DERRY'S All-Ireland minor campaign may have ended in nightmare fashion, but Damian McErlain believes the county is in “a better place” than it has been in years.
The young Oak Leafs lost by 24 points to a David Clifford-inspired Kerry side at Croke Park on Sunday and while it may take some time for those wounds to heal, McErlain has confidence in the foundations that have been laid.
The Newbridge man, who led Derry to a first All-Ireland minor final in 10 years, goes on to take over the senior reins, succeeding Damian Barton.
And, he insists, the challenge now is to transfer that talented underage crop into senior stars of the future.
“You can't ask any more of them,” he said after Sunday's harrowing defeat.
“But Derry's in a better place standing here today than in many previous years. It's a long time since they were in an All-Ireland minor final and we've done rightly this last two or three years to develop players.
“The next challenge for the county is to take them from 18 to 22-23.”
And it is a challenge McErlain and his management team will embrace, with work starting straight away as he takes a watching brief at this Sunday's Derry SFC final between Ballinascreen and defending champions Slaughtneil.
“That's what we've signed up to,” he continued.
“We have that knowledge of what's there, we know the sort of lads who have the right athleticism, mentality and ability, and those things are all key. If you don't have one of the three you're probably going to struggle.
“We're looking forward to the challenge coming in, we love working in Owenbeg, we have the backing of everybody there to take the thing on.
“These lads are still the same footballers they were this morning. The boys are going to be county seniors, they'll still be county seniors even though this was a hell of a lesson for them.
“Their loyalty to the Derry jersey will be forever now – every single one of them - and that's a big, big thing when you're taking a minor team. You're getting lads to buy into the jersey and there was a serious pride in the county this week.”
Meanwhile, Antrim's selection sub-committee will unveil their choice as new football manager at a county board meeting next Monday night.
Former Antrim player Lenny Harbinson, who led Belfast's St Gall's to the All-Ireland club title back in 2010, Armagh All-Ireland winner and former Louth manager Aidan O'Rourke and John McKeever, also an former Antrim star and a successful club manager, were all interviewed for the position which was vacated by management duo Gearoid Adams and Frank Fitzsimmons at the end of the 2017 Championship campaign.
Despite some promising performances, Antrim were relegated to Division Four last season and the team lost in the All-Ireland series against Donegal (in Ulster) and Sligo (in the Qualifiers).
Elsewhere, Down manager Eamonn Burns has not added to his backroom team for next season. The Mournemen will hope to build on a promising 2016 which saw them retain their Division Two status, reach an Ulster final and return to Croke Park (for a round four Qualifier against Monaghan).
“The Down management hasn't approached anybody,” said Burns.