Derry minors are ready to meet a fancied Monaghan head on
Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football Championship final: Derry v Monaghan (tonight, Athletic Grounds, 8pm)
MAYBE Derry minor manager Paddy Campbell is playing mind games. Maybe he’s just being honest. Either way, he clearly has a high opinion of Séamus McEnaney’s Monahgan minors.
Defending champions Derry face up to a fancied Farney outfit at the Athletic Grounds this evening in a rerun of April’s provincial preliminary round clash between the sides. On that occasion, the young Oaks came out on the right side of a one-point game, but Glenties man Campbell is far from predicting a similar outcome tonight.
“We were fortuitous to beat Monaghan in the preliminary round, I said that on the day,” says the former Donegal star.
“They’re favourites for Ulster and they’ve been widely tipped to win the All-Ireland as well… they’re a very impressive outfit. They’ve six top-class forwards you have to deal with whereas, with most teams, you’re looking at one or two.
“They’ve players of the quality of Jason Irwin and Aaron Mulligan in the side and, if Banty [McEnaney] was being realistic about it, he’d fancy them for an All-Ireland, but he’ll probably not admit that.”
Admire Monaghan he may but Campbell, who is in his first year with the Derry minors, is far from raising the white flag ahead of tonight’s final.
“We’ve done our homework and we’re looking forward to the game,” he adds.
“Everyone is fit and ready, we’ve no injuries and all the hard work has been done. There are players who have cancelled holidays to be available for tomorrow night.
“We’ve had no club games to compete with – they’ve all been put off until next week – so we’ve had the best preparation possible. We had Tyrone just the other week, so we’re raring to go.”
That semi-final against a strong Tyrone team ended in a five-point victory for Derry and completed their recovery from a shock loss to Cavan just a week after the preliminary round win over Monaghan. The Oaks won qualifiers against Armagh and Fermanagh following that defeat, and Campbell feels his charges are better for the experience.
“That defeat came just a week after the Monaghan game. We’d a long journey down to Cavan on a warm day,” he says.
“We’d played maybe nine games in eight weeks at that stage and the boys were putting in a major effort. The loss was maybe a good thing because we got a great response and we’ve kicked on from that.”
While Derry are defending champions tonight, this is a group of players who are largely new to this level of football, with the added learning curve of working with a new coaching team.
However, it’s so far so good as far as Campbell is concerned: “This is a group of players who didn’t achieve a huge amount at U15, U16 level, so there was no big objective at the start of the summer other than to win the first game,” he says.
“The lads are new to the level and we’re new to them, so we had to get to know each other and they had to get used to new coaching techniques.
“We’ve come on a quare journey together and this is an Ulster final we’re in now, we’ve got to make the most of it because they don’t come around that often.”