GAA Football

McErlain backs releasing players to clubs

Westmeath's win in Celtic Park has made life more difficult for Derry in terms of gaining promotion. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

DERRY manager Damian McErlain has backed the plans of the county’s CCC to reform club football in spite of the impact they might have on his own ambitions.

The Oak Leaf fixture makers have been commended for making all inter-county players available for all club league and championship games in 2018 as part of the new strategy.

They will play a block of club league games between April and early May before breaking for inter-county duty through the summer, returning to their clubs once Derry’s campaign draws to an end.

The clubs themselves will continue to play through the summer in revamped district competitions that will guarantee each club player a minimum of 20 games over the year.

“It’s probably a big strain on the players themselves,” conceded McErlain.

“Between now and May 6, I think they’ll play 15 games. Seven games in five weeks at the start of the club league is tough going.

“The county season’s squeezed up, it’s week after week with only two breaks in the National League.

“It’s great that the clubs have the players for their games, there’s no question about that. It’s going to be tough for everyone, county players and club players, to come through a programme like that injury free.

“The clubs are going to get football but it’s kind of been forced on us at the same time by the inter-county calendar.

“Derry have done the right thing by trying to sort it out themselves. I’m absolutely 100 per cent behind the thinking.

“At least they’re trying to think about it rather than having a mess in the middle of the year, they’re managing the thing, which is what other boards need to do.

“It’s a positive thing. If there are less teams in Division One [of the Derry leagues] next year it might ease up but in this first year there’s a lot of games to be played.”

The Irish News understands that while the number of clubs in the top flight will be reduced from 16 to 12 in 2019, avenues are being explored to prevent a cut to the number of league games for clubs.

The new Derry manager was speaking following an opening round defeat to fellow Division Three promotion hopefuls Westmeath.

Both sides had chances to improve further on the 35 scores in Celtic Park, with Derry missing an injury-time penalty that could have salvaged at least a draw.

Westmeath’s Luke Loughlin had rattled the crossbar early in the second half, while their goalkeeper Eoin Carberry made a fine save to deny Enda Lynn 15 minutes from time, as well as stopping the Greenlough man’s spot-kick.

It leaves the Oak Leafers, who were without 10 men through club commitments and injuries, fighting an uphill battle to win promotion. They have to go away to both Armagh and Fermanagh, not to mention next weekend’s trip to the county’s bogey team Longford, who put up 3-18 in Offaly on Sunday.

“It [promotion] was very hard from the start. This was one of the big fixtures, Westmeath are a good side and they’ll be up around the top for sure.

“We have to look after ourselves. The fixtures will come at us and we’re going to these away grounds and they’ll be very tough matches.

“We’re light in terms of the men we have but if you talk about what we have today, it’s frustrating because we didn’t win the match with the squad we have.

“It doesn’t matter who’s missing. It doesn’t matter that we lost Benny and Terence from the team we named on Thursday night – that’s this time of year, it’s hard to get 25 men from Thursday to Sunday.”

The lightness of his squad has led to heightened questioning of the decision not to pick Danny Heavron and Emmett McGuckin as part of his panel. Asked why they had been left out, McErlain replied: “I picked a panel and those two lads weren’t on it.”

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