GAA Football

Family feel behind Derry's recent revival believes Killian Conlan

Killian Conlan (left) as assistant to Derry football manager Damian McErlain against Kildare during the 2018 All-Ireland SFC round one qualifier at Owenbeg, Derry.
Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Michael McMullan

A PERSONAL touch and a family feel have helped Derry maintain their recent minor resurgence, insists former minor and senior coach Killian Conlan.

Having featured in a sixth Ulster final in eight seasons, Derry’s current minor crop take on Galway in Saturday’s All-Ireland semi-final.

Conlan also believes Derry seniors’ recent Ulster success had some of its roots in confidence generated from minor success.

Conor Glass, Shea Downey, and Shane McGuigan were on the 2015 winning team that overcame a fancied Donegal on their way to ending a 13-year minor famine.

“There was a lot of good work by men prior to that and teams didn’t get over the line,” pointed out Conlan, the then manager Damian McErlain’s right hand man.

Derry began to get their underage structures in place with Owenbeg’s new gym opening its doors.

Another ingredient was getting “harmony” with the school teams and – like Martin Boyle now – McErlain came into the post after being involved with development squads.

“Macker (McErlain) had a great relationship with Paul Hughes (St Patrick’s, Maghera) and that was a really good starting point,” Conlan points out.

“We got them on board at the start. We had a really good trial process where we wanted everybody and anybody to come that wanted to play for Derry.

“It was like a family…we trained hard, we had a bit of craic, we got to know everybody and the schools played ball with us. It seemed to work well and went from strength to strength after that,” Conlan added

With a management team in place, it was the perfect foundation for success with the talent at their disposal.

Of the 30 players on Rory Gallagher’s senior squad, 16 have came through the minor conveyor belt in the last eight seasons.

Having had success at school level, Conlan insists it was the perfect building block for the belief they could also achieve in the red and white of Derry.

“There was a lot of people saying in the run up to the Ulster [senior] final that Donegal would have too much for Derry,” Conlan said of the recent senior final.

He didn’t see it that way. McKaigue would pair up with Paddy McBrearty, with Brendan Rogers going on to Michael Murphy.

“Conor Glass and Shane McGuigan, boys like that, they had no fear of their other players,” he added.

“They had beat them at minor level and there was no doubt that when it came down to a battle at senior level, those boys had it in the tank.”

With underage success, there was a renewed desire to wear the jersey. Current senior player Conor Doherty didn’t make the 2015 minor panel, but made a promise to himself he’d be on board the following season and went on to captain the 2018 U20 winning side.

“He missed out and wanted to be part of it so much,” Conlan said of Doherty’s initial disappointment.

“Once you win everybody wants to be on that train and he is still on it…all the serious people have stayed on the journey.”

Conlan sees the same traits in the current minor management with Martin Boyle “similar” to McErlain. It’s about getting those in with people skills.

“They have a good family atmosphere,” Conlan said of the current minor group. “The families are behind them and it was the same with the [2020] All-Ireland win over Kerry.

“It is an exciting age group and it gives everybody a lift. Some of the friendships you have…you might not see them from week to week, but when you do, you always remember those days.

“It’s great so see that pastoral element evident in Derry and its one of the main reasons why they are doing so well.”

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