GAA Football

Damian McErlain resigns after two years in charge of Derry

Damian McErlain has stepped down as Derry manager after two years in charge of the senior team. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Diarmuid Pepper

DERRY officialdom are on the look-out for a new senior football manager after yesterday's surprise announcement that Damian McErlain was stepping after only two years at the helm.
In a statement released on Derry's official GAA website, the hugely successful former minor manager cited "personal circumstances" and the need to prioritise "myself and my family". 

Under McErlain, Derry gained promotion out of Division Four this year and after pushing Tyrone in their Ulster opener they negotiated a way past Wexford in the All-Ireland Qualifiers before slipping up at home to Laois. 

Former Monaghan manager Malachy O'Rourke will almost be certainly sounded out for the vacancy having guided Loup to county and provincial honours back in 2003. 

But whether the Fermanagh man wants to jump straight back into inter-county management after stepping down from the Monaghan post last month is debatable. 

In an interview with The Irish News three years ago, O'Rourke didn't miss the sidelines once he stepped away from the Fermanagh job in 2010.

“One thing I did realise was that I could live without it," he said in 2016. 

"I didn’t miss it badly... Once you get the buzz [they say] it’s very hard to give it up and I thought I would have been itching to get back. But I didn’t find that to be honest.”

With good work at underage level in the county and the prospect of pushing for back-to-back promotions in 2020 the Derry job remains an attractive one. 

Former Derry midfielder and Loup man Johnny McBride is another viable option for the county board to consider while U20 managerial pair Mickey Donnelly and Chris Collins could be promoted despite last weekend's disappointing loss to Tyrone.

Paul McIver, another Derry native, has also served a good managerial apprenticeship in recent years and might be a possible successor to McErlain. 

McErlain was due to be at the helm for three years and expressed “disappointment that I won’t be finishing my term”.

With this decision McErlain draws the curtain on a five-year spell in Owenbeg, having successfully managed the Derry minors before taking up the top job within the senior team.

Under McErlain’s watch, Derry minors reached three Ulster finals in as many years, winning two of those and losing another by a mere two points to Donegal and he took the Derry minors all the way to the All-Ireland final Championship in 2017 where they were bested by Kerry.

Speaking of his five-year spell over the minor and senior teams, McErlain said: “I’d like to thank all the members of the management teams I’ve had over the five years in Owenbeg whose efforts, knowledge and integrity knew no bounds to try and bring success and progress to Derry at both Minor and Senior level.”

McErlain thanked his wife Sinead, who he said “made many sacrifices for me and supported me through the highs and lows". 

Derry endured what McErlain described as a “difficult 2018” which seen the Derry senior panel knocked out of the Ulster Championship by Donegal and losing to Kildare by eight points in an All-Ireland first round qualifier.

However, in his statement McErlain said that “good progress” had been made in a 2019 campaign that ended with a second round qualifier defeat to Laois.

He called for “the continued support of clubs and the patience of supporters” to help the county team flourish on the provincial and national stage.

He added: "Underage football in Derry has been strong these last number of years but senior inter-county is a different animal and again these players coming through have to have the desire to persist in developing themselves and their game over a number of years if they want to succeed in driving Derry onwards..."

The Derry County Board “reluctantly accepted” McErlain’s resignation and said that the “process of appointing a new manager will commence over the coming days”.

McErlain is the fifth inter-country manager to resign this summer, hot on the heels of Cian O’Neill’s departure from Kildare as well as Paul McLoughlin (Wexford), Liam Kearns (Tipperary) and Malachy O’Rourke (Monaghan) who stepped down from their respective roles.

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