Postponement due to Storm Dennis may have been blessing in disguise for Derry U20s
Ulster U20 FC quarter-final: Antrim v Derry (tonight, the Dub, 7.45pm)
DERRY'S U20 manager Mickey Donnelly says the jury is still out on whether the extra week's recovery his panel was given thanks to Storm Dennis will prove the difference tonight.
Antrim and Derry were scheduled to square off in their Ulster U20 quarter-final at Dunsilly last Saturday afternoon but a last minute pitch inspection resulted in a postponement, with the other three last-eight ties following suit.
With Derry having being taken to extra-time by Fermanagh in the preliminary round the weekend before, Donnelly admits the suspension gave some of his players the time to recover properly, but would still have preferred the game to go ahead.
“It was a tough game against Fermanagh and it's been a funny fortnight since with the game being cancelled last week, but it's been the same for everybody and you just have to make the best of it,” Donnelly said before heading out to training with his squad yesterday evening.
“We actually got to Dunsilly nearly, we were two miles out of Antrim when we got the phone call. We definitely didn't get an inkling. I suppose we knew that the weather wasn't great and the pitch was going to be inspected but it was late notice. But sure, what do you do? That's the nature of the beast unfortunately.
“We'd a lot of tired bodies after the Fermanagh game going to extra-time, it would've been tough to play last Saturday, there's no doubt about that, especially in really bad conditions. Whether or not it was a blessing in disguise remains to be seen.
“There's no excuses now for tomorrow night, both teams have had a real good break and good bit of time to prepare and get the bodies right. I'm sure it'll be another lovely Irish evening, so we've just got to make the best of it and see who comes out on top.”
With Donnelly already managing a restricted squad, the extra week presented the opportunity to ensure everyone on the panel would be available to face the Saffrons, minus Oran Downey who was red carded in the win over Fermanagh.
“Certainly, it was good to give lads a proper chance to get rehab and recovery,” he added.
“We've a very small panel because of not having the availability of the schools players, so we needed everybody there and, thank God, now we'll have most lads back because of those extra six days.”
Donnelly was reluctant to single any one player out from the victory over the Erne county, despite Alex Doherty scoring five points off the bench and the likes of James Diamond and Tiernán Walsh producing solid performances in defence. The St Ronan's, Lurgan teacher is more focused on four former pupils of his – the St Mary's, Aghagallon quartet of Luke Mulholland, Jamie Lamont, Adam Loughran and Marc McAfee – who will be lining out for Antrim tonight.
“We genuinely have just been focusing on Antrim rather than taking time to pat ourselves on the back because we know Antrim are a good side,” he said.
“I know a lot of the boys from school and they've some serious, serious players. We've been casting all our attention on them in terms of getting ready to play them.”