Plenty to play for as Derry and Ulster University clash at Owenbeg
BOI Dr McKenna Cup Section C Round 3: Derry v Ulster University (tonight, Owenbeg, 8pm)
QUALIFICATION for the semi-finals remains mathematically possible for Derry but beyond Ulster University, however both sides can use tonight’s clash as valuable preparation for more important clashes just around the corner - Derry have a Division Four campaign to occupy their minds and UU’s focus will soon turn to their Sigerson Cup trip to IT Tralee later this month
Section C leaders Tyrone require just a draw against Fermanagh at Healy Park to progress to the semi-finals and, while a heavy defeat could open the door for the Oak Leafers, that looks highly unlikely.
Despite that, Derry will be keen to finish off their McKenna Cup campaign with back-to-back wins. They began it with a nine-point loss against Tyrone at Celtic Park but manager Damian McErlain took what positives he could from the defeat and his young Oak Leafers bounced back with a four-point victory against Fermanagh at Brewster Park last Sunday.
“Bar one goal chance I thought we were solid in defence,” McErlain told reporters after the 3-9 to 2-8 win in Enniskillen.
“Our workrate and shape was very pleasing. There is still plenty to work on but a win against a Division Two team is good for us and gives us really good momentum.”
Unknown U20 forward Ben McCarron – who had registered a point against Tyrone on his inter-county debut - replaced injured Ryan Bell in the game and went on to hit a match-winning 3-1.
Bell, who missed last season, was stretchered off in the seventh minute of the game and the Ballinderry forward is expected to miss up to two months of action which could rule him out of the Division Four programme.
He joins Brendan Rogers, Shea Downey and Conor Doherty on the injured list and news that Ballinascreen forward Benny Heron is expected to return to the Derry fold next month has been tempered by Coleraine midfielder Niall Holly’s decision not to link up with the squad.
Youngster McCarron could feature again tonight but McErlain may not want to push the youngster too hard. The Magherafelt native – who is without eight players, including Karl McKaigue, Niall Keenan and Niall Toner, who are with their colleges - slammed the scheduling of the competition that has allowed his players only a couple of days to recover from last weekend’s exertion.
“We will have injuries from this game and we now have only two days’ rest,” McErlain observed after the win against Fermanagh.
“That is absolute madness. That was the big advantage with playing Tyrone prior to Christmas in that we didn’t have three games in seven days.”
Meanwhile, Paul Rouse’s Ulster University side took on Fermanagh in the first match of the ‘2019’ season – three-and-a-half weeks ago on December 15. A second half rally saw them claim a draw that day but they were no match for a Tyrone side that played with typical January intensity last Sunday.
The Red Hands – who lost their McKenna Cup crown to Donegal last year – ran out 2-14 to 1-9 winners but one of their own, Lee Brennan who had registered nine points against Fermanagh, top scored on the day for the UU students.