Football

Derry youngsters can capture more silverware against Down

Oak Leaf side hot favourites to defend their title

Damian McErlain is back at the helm with the Derry minors as they looked ahead to Sunday's All-Ireland final against Ulster rivals Monaghan. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin
Damian McErlain is back at the helm with the Derry minors. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin Damian McErlain is back at the helm with the Derry minors. Picture by Margaret McLaughlin

Ulster Minor Football League final

Down v Derry (Saturday, Páirc Esler, 12pm)

DOWN were merely a stepping stone in Derry’s trail of destruction last year when the Oak Leaf County captured the Ulster and All-Ireland titles with a winning streak of ten games on the trot.

In fact, the only blot on Derry’s otherwise perfect run was their three-point league final defeat to Donegal, but they’ve made it back to the exact same position this season and will look to rectify their mistakes.

The Mourne County stand in Derry’s way of cramming some more silverware into their ever-growing trophy cabinet and the two teams will do battle at Pairc Esler, Newry, the same venue where they faced off in last year’s Ulster Championship.

That was an extremely one-sided affair as Derry completely overpowered their hosts, winning on the extraordinary scoreline of 1-21 to 0-3. Derry also coughed up 14 wides that day and should have hit the net at least one more time.

But Down seem to have turned a corner and victories over Armagh, Monaghan and Donegal see Benny Coulter’s side compete in a league final and they’ll bee keen to close the gap between the two counties.

Goals from Darragh Poland and Barra McEvoy were the key scores for Down as they edged past Donegal in the league semi-final by the minimum of margins, coming back from six-points behind at the interval.

Damian McErlain’s young Derry team are still backboned by several of last year’s stars including the inspirational James Sargent, who was named at centre half back on the Electric Ireland Minor Team of the Year for 2023.

Eamonn Young, Luke Grant and Ger Dillon are other survivors from last year’s All-Ireland winning campaign and all started the final against Monaghan while Jack McCloy was suspended for the decider. They’re back in search for more silverware this weekend.

Derry beat Tyrone and Antrim in their section of the league before cruising past Cavan by seven to reach the showpiece, conceding a combined 0-15 across three games and keeping a clean sheet in each.

There is also silverware available in Crossmaglen today as old foes Armagh and Tyrone do battle in the League Shield final. Both teams have only been beaten once in the league, so this is a chance to build some momentum ahead of next week’s championship.

They clashed in the u16 Buncrana Cup final last year when the Orchard County emerged victorious thanks to second half goals from this year’s minor skipper Shea Loughran, James McCooe and Aaron Garvey.