GAA Football

Damian McErlain has a bit more experience available as Derry visit Fermanagh

Damian McErlain takes his Derry side to Brewster Park to face Fermanagh on Sunday Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Odhrán Crumley

DERRY manager Damian McErlain is expecting to have a more experienced panel at his disposal for Sunday’s second Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup Section C game.

Derry travel to Brewster Park to face Fermanagh after beginning their campaign before Christmas with a  0-20 to 0-11 defeat to Tyrone.

Only two points separated the sides at the break that evening but the strength-in-depth of the All-Ireland SFC runners-up proved too much for a young and inexperienced Derry side.

Despite the fact that the Oak Leaf panel will be boosted for Sunday, it is expected that McErlain will still give further game time to youngsters who will be needed for the forthcoming NFL Division Four campaign, which begins with a short trip to face Antrim at the end of the month.

“Ninety-six per cent of the players will be back and available to us (in time for the start of the league) but who we have is another question because you still have the seven boys ineligible for this competition because they are with their universities,” explained the Derry manager.

“We should have another one or two men back for Fermanagh and the Ulster University match – those games are on top of each other a bit but it’s really the League before you have everyone out and maybe one or two will still get it tight for that.”

McErlain handed senior inter-county debuts to six players  –including five of his back six – in that Tyrone defeat. They were Sean Quinn, Conor Mullholland, Eamon McGill, Ryan Dougan, Eoghan Concannon and Ulster U20-winning winning star Ben McCarron.

Speaking of the back six debutants, McErlain appeared optimistic for what the future may hold.

“Experience-wise we were light coming into the game,’’ he said.

“Midfield up we had boys who had all played Championship before, most of them, and they did well, they competed well.

“You could see the stuff we have been working on so far, but you could also see the things we absolutely haven’t worked on so far.

“We probably suffered a bit on our own kick-outs, we struggled badly at times and again, that’s one of those things which we have to do more work on.”

For the first time in its history, Dr McKenna Cup games took place before Christmas, leaving a break between games that counties have never before had to legislate for.

“The break is slightly weird, but it gave us a chance to get a bit of work done between Christmas and the New Year and you mightn’t have had that without the fixture change,’’ added McErlain.

“The one advantage of the game being pulled forward is that it spreads the games out. You are not risking the injuries that the McKenna Cup can bring.

“Three games in nine days or four games in 12 days if you go well in it, that’s absolute madness.

“Again the fixtures people are not the strength-and-conditioning coaches.

“You wouldn’t ask professional teams to do that.

“When teams are playing a heavy load like that you are going to get injuries. No team wants to do that.”

For the Tyrone game, McErlain says that from his panel of 29 he had seven away playing with their university teams, plus eight in rehab.

When you do the maths, it left the man in charge with a conundrum to solve: “It is a challenge, but we were able to call on the under 20s and some of them came in and did well. That game is a good experience for them.

“It was good to get in amongst the likes of Tyrone and see how they are operating – the physique and conditioning they have,” McErlain concluded.

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