GAA Football

Derry manager Damian McErlain learns lessons from victory over UU

Derry manager Damian McErlain with his team in the changing rooms before taking on Ulster University in their McKenna Cup opener on Wednesday night at Celtic Park. Picture Margaret McLaughlin.
Andy Watters

DERRY manager Damian McErlain summed up his side’s first performance of the year accurately.

“It’s the third of January, that’s the summary,” said the Magherafelt clubman after victory over Ulster University and he knows much better will be required by the 28th.

With the entire McKenna Cup and the first round of the National League crammed into 25 days in January, McErlain is well aware that neither he nor his fledgling Oak Leaf players have much time to find their feet.

On Wednesday night Derry played in fits and starts but, in the end, they beat an Ulster University side that was packed with inter-county stars. On Sunday McErlain has the first away trip of his term as senior manager when he takes his side south to face Division Three rivals Armagh.

“It was a ridiculously open match,” said McErlain as he reflected on 2-14 to 3-10 win against ‘the Poly’ at Celtic Park.

“We were (open) anyway and we probably showed a lack of football there because we’ve only had one challenge match against Queen’s and, to be fair, that probably shone through. Jordanstown were far sharper on the ball in the first half and we were standing off them and letting them run through us.

“Another county team would have had five or six points tapped over with us standing off but once we got going and got ourselves organised, which I suppose is what it’s like in the first match of the year, we started to put a bit of pressure on and we were decent enough going forward, we were causing them bother as well.

“Overall, they had a lot of goal chances, we kicked eight shots into the ’keeper’s hands… It was just poor January-stuff and we have a massive amount of work to do, we’re under no illusions about that already.

“We’re working with a small squad and we gave a debut to five young lads there and they all did really well. So there are positives there too and we won the match which, at the end of the day, was the main thing.”

Without the experience of players from county and provincial champions Slaughtneil, who are preparing for an All-Ireland club championship semi-final with Cork and Munster champions Nemo Rangers, McErlain has had to throw youngsters into the fray alongside a handful of seasoned campaigners.

“We had the work to do before Christmas to get the fitness up because if you don’t do it before Christmas you have no chance in January because it’s too late and you’re absolutely gone,” McErlain explained.

“That’s the first proper game we’ve had and the first 70 minute game we’ve had. At the end there we were chipping over points but there was a level of tiredness with us as well, but that’s this time of year.”

Coleraine’s Ruairi Mooney was one of several new faces who showed well on Wednesday night. The attacking defender from Coleraine settled after the interval and scored a point in a man of the match performance.

“Ruairi really came into the game,” said McErlain.

“In the first half we were all struggling but in the second half he was playing the same way he plays for Coleraine – coming from deep at the right time, supporting the play and he gave a couple of good balls, there was a really good ball for a Ciaran McFaul point.

“He is fit and athletic and he has been a real plus for the squad because he has come in sort of ready-made and he’s young too. There’s loads of work to be done, but it was a great start to him and a great boost to his confidence.”

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