GAA Football

Five back for Derry as new boss Damian McErlain builds for next season

Emmet Bradley is one of five players who have confirmed that they will return to the Derry fold for next season
Andy Watters

DERRY prospects for 2018 have been boosted by the return of some of the players who missed out on last season’s League and Championship campaigns.

The Irish News understands that Liam McGoldrick, Kevin Johnston, Emmet Bradley, Terence O’Brien and Michael Bateson have all indicated that they will be a part of Damian McErlain’s plans for 2018.

All five opted out of the panel last year as the beleagured Oak Leafers suffered relegation to Division Three followed by a heavy Ulster Championship loss to Tyrone and a second round exit from the Qualifiers despite a gutsy display against eventual All-Ireland finalists Mayo.

It is understood that McErlain, who guided the Derry minors to Ulster titles in 2015 and 2017 and to this year’s All-Ireland final, has had a positive response from almost everyone he called into the panel. Banagher clubman Mark Lynch has indicated that he will be involved but, like his predecessor Damian Barton, manager McErlain will be without the contingent from Slaughtneil until at least February if they beat Cavan champions Cavan Gaels in Sunday’s Ulster Senior Club Championship final at Armagh’s Athletic Grounds.

That contingent includes Karl and Chrissy McKaigue, Brendan Rodgers and Shane McGuigan. Slaughtneil star Chrissy McKaigue described the promotion of McErlain from minor to senior manager as “a very positive move” for a county that has gone almost two decades without winning an Ulster Championship.

“We're always talking about Derry being in this development phase but there has been pretty decent underage success in Derry recently,” he said.

“Damian McErlain has been responsible for a fair bit of that. He's now got the job and to me, that's a very positive move. I think at the minute in Ulster, bar probably Tyrone, everybody can be pretty competitive with each other. That's a plus coming from a county like Derry at the minute.

“But Derry are in Division Three for a reason, we have no right to be saying what we're going to do. But I think Damian is going to put in the right structures, he's a very intelligent man and comes from the right background.”

Derry begin their League campaign with a home draw against Westmeath on January 28. They also host Offaly but their season could hinge on back-to-back Ulster derbies (both on the road) against Fermanagh and Armagh.

McKaigue predicts that next season’s inter-county battles will continue the trend of a move away from the defensive mindset that reached its peak (or trough depending on your point of view) two years ago.

“I think it's proven that if you want to win big honours in Gaelic football, club or county, you're not going to do that if you're ultra-defensive, it's just not going to happen,” said McKaigue.

“There has to be a balance of play and whatever else.

“I think there's more emphasis now on the skills of the game, whereas for a couple of years there I did feel it went a bit OTT and was all about GPS stats and who could wear the tightest shirts, all them different things.

“I think we're starting to appreciate now the beauty of Gaelic football again.

“I don't want it to go back to this traditional catch and kick either, you have to play the game smartly, balance is the key word.

“When you look at the minute, Dublin and Mayo are the two best teams in the country and their balance is fantastic. They're physically very competent but they're definitely technically very competent. You have to try to model on the best, on what they're doing, and they're two pretty good models.”

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