Damian McErlain praises ‘serious group of players’ as Derry overcome Orchard challenge

The Oak Leafers edged a tight battle against Aidan O’Rourke’s side in Omagh

Derry minors
Derry celebrate after beating Armagh on Sunday. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )
Electric Ireland All-Ireland MFC final
Armagh 0-10 Derry 2-7

THE powers that be in Derry must nurture an exceptional wave of young talent and give the county the best possible chance to prosper at senior level, according to minor manager Damian McErlain.

After leading the Oak Leaf county to a second successive All-Ireland MFC title and a third in five years, McErlain hailed the quality of the young footballers he has had the blessing of working with.

“They’re a serious group of players, serious talent among them,” said McErlain following the 2-7 to 0-10 victory over Armagh at O’Neills Healy Park yesterday.

“The workrate, the attitude that’s bred into them in their houses first, clubs, schools and then when they get to us, then you’re moulding it again to another level.

“This is an elite level, and the boys have adjusted to it really well.”

But he warned: “Good talent at that age can just go awry, you have got to nurture it.

Derry manager Damian McErlain with the cup after beating Armagh in the All Ireland Minor Football Championship Final played at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday 7th July 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Derry manager Damian McErlain with the Tom Markham Cup after his side had beaten Armagh in the All-Ireland minor football final at O'Neills Healy Park, Omagh. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )

“We have seen through the years clubs with a good underage system, and the talent gets lost somewhere.

“We have to take them on from 17 to 25 to get them there. It’s a big gap, but look, you’re in the right place when you’re producing players at that level, and that’s all Derry can do at this stage.”

Ten survivors from last year’s All-Ireland MFC-winning squad brought serious levels of depth and quality to a successful retention of the Tom Markham Cup, according to McErlain.

“Every one of them brought quality to it, brought it not just on the field of play, but quality in the background in terms of culture,” he said.

Three stars of the 2023 triumph stepped up in the clutch moments as the holders came from behind to push for home in the final quarter.

Skipper James Sargent, Luke Grant and Eamon Young stood tall in a towering finish for the Oak Leafers, capped by a clinching goal from Cody Rocks.

“We have come to see that. They go to the one school, they have grown up together those three lads in that school environment,” said McErlain.

“And they look to each other in those moments, they dig deep and their quality shines through.

“And when it came to the big moments, those three men just stood up.”

Meanwhile, Armagh manager Aidan O’Rourke reflected on missed goal chances and fine margins.

“If you’d have said we’d score 10 times and they would score nine, I would have been fairly sure we’d have won the game,” he said.

Derry Cody Rocks 14 celebrates a goal against Armagh in the All Ireland Minor Football Championship Final played at Healy Park, Omagh on Sunday 7th July 2024. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Derry's Cody Rocks (14) celebrates his second-half goal. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (MARGARET MCLAUGHLIN PHOTOGRAPHY )

“I was sure we’d have scored the goals too - you’d do well to get a goal against us and they got two.

“Derry are a superb football team – they are the best team in the country. That’s been demonstrated, not just today, but over the course of the season. They’ve been unbeaten so it was a big task to come here and win the game.

“We gave ourselves a great chance – with 10 minutes gone in the second half, we’d turnovers and unforced errors. Tiny things.”