SECOND half goals from Eamon Cassidy and Niall Brolly helped Ryan O’Neill’s Derry u20s get their McGurk Cup campaign off to a winning start against Armagh at Celtic Park on Tuesday night.
The hosts trailed for the majority of the game, with two first have goals from the Orchard County putting them five in front at the break, but Derry outscored their opponents 2-7 to 0-5 in the final quarter to claim a five-point victory.
“It’s great to get into the competition to start with,” said O’Neill, who’s side are now preparing for a quarter-final clash with Donegal this weekend.
“I remember saying to one of the lads that Armagh had scored five point from frees and we’d scored a couple from play, and we were never really out of it. But they got a goal and then another just before half time which left five in it at half time.
“I knew by the way that we’d asked the boys to stand up and be counted, obviously all of our players are u20 so it’s going to be a tough ask regardless of who you’re playing against. When you’re playing a senior team, it’s a big night’s work for u20s.
“Our boys stood up in the second half to be fair to them, they rode out the storm. We got level and we went in front then and we just pushed on from that.”
The reigning McGurk Cup holders Donegal stand between Derry and a place in the last four and O’Neill is expecting another big test for his side. Donegal will compete in the same division with Derry in the National Hurling League once that gets underway.
“We’ve got to travel to Convoy on Saturday and we’ll be expecting a massive, massive test but again, it’s something we’re relishing and it’s something we’re excited about,” added O’Neill.
“I hope to have a couple of boys back from injury, we’re missing four or five from our starting team at the minute, but Tuesday night gave us a chance to look at lads who have joined the panel this year and have been training well and deserved their shot.”
While Derry could have a few stronger players back in contention for a starting berth this weekend, O’Neill is of the belief that anyone who performed well against Armagh, or puts their hand up at training, should be given a chance.
“Over the years we’ve been honest with the players, if we’re going to hold the players to account, the players are able to hold us to account too, we’ve made that clear from day one.
“The way we work always, if we have a game on Saturday and train on Wednesday and Friday and on Wednesday, we pick the team and if there’s somebody putting their hand up on Wednesday night, they deserve their shot on Saturday, so they’ll get the nod.
“On Tuesday night’s performances, the boys coming back in will have to put those players out of their positions. I’m not a great believer in when some of your more experienced players come back that you just drop somebody else, because that’s not good for morale.”