Derry determined to show their worth in Championship quarter-final against Donegal
REPORTS of the death of Derry football are greatly exaggerated as far as manager Damian McErlain is concerned and the Oak Leaf boss is confident his men will produce a performance that belies their Division Four status when they meet north-west neighbours Donegal on May 27.
After relegation to the basement division this year, Derry go into the Celtic Park quarter-final as rank underdogs and McErlain concedes that “nobody will be giving us a shout”.
But the Magherafelt native has been impressed with the attitude his players have shown since they assembled for the start of Championship preparations early last month.
“We had a disappointing winter, but we’ve got everybody back and we’ve got organized,” said McErlain.
“We have young, ambitious players and we have experienced, ambitious players as well and we’ll be looking to go out and deliver at Celtic Park.”
He explained: “We gave the boys a fortnight off after the League and we came back on the 2nd of April.
“It was the first time we had everybody in the room who is involved with the squad and that tells it’s own story to an extent and we presented that night about how we were going to put things right, what we needed to address and what the mentality needed to be.
“The boys responded immediately and we had an excellent session that night and that has continued right through.
“We have juggled with the club matches, kept the boys fresh and as the club matches went on we had to taper the training and it was about short sessions and tactical sessions more than any particular work.
“We have been pleased with the work we’ve done and it does feel like a totally different year.”
Three goals from Sligo sealed Derry’s fate in the final League fixture and a storm of criticism followed the county’s relegation to Division Four, just four years after they had reached the Division One final.
“The residue from this spring won’t be got rid of until next spring, so there’s not much point feeling sorry for ourselves now,” said McErlain.
“This is Championship and we know we’re disappointed about going down to Division Four but we feel we have the quality to prove we shouldn’t be there and we’ll get our chance to show that next year.”
Meanwhile, McErlain has ruled Benny Heron out of the quarter-final against Donegal. The Ballinascreen clubman injured his shoulder in a club match and is not expected to recover in time for the Celtic Park clash.
“Benny Heron is out of contention at the minute,” said McErlain.
“Terence O’Brien is on the road back and we hope he’ll be in contention. Mark Lynch is carrying a bit of a knock but we hope he’ll be fit and good to go.”
The Derry manager holds a win over Donegal boss Declan Bonner from their minor management days. He watched Donegal power past Cavan in the Ulster preliminary round last Sunday and knows that task that awaits his side.
“They were very impressive,” he said.
“They look in really good physical shape, moving well and attacking…
“It was very high-scoring, they hit 2-19 from play so we know what’s coming at us, they’re a good side. They are a bit more established than us even though they have a bit more fresh blood in their team as well.
“We’re looking forward to the challenge, we’re looking forward to bringing them to Celtic Park and seeing how we can get our and how we can compete.”