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Derry look to youngsters to end barren spell

By John Campbell

The Derry board is in the throes of a concerted effort to get the county "up off its knees" in the words of one prominent official.

While teams such as Tyrone, Donegal and Armagh have sampled Ulster and All-Ireland success at regular intervals since the dawn of the new millennium, Derry have to go back to 1998 for their last Ulster crown and to 1993 for their only All-Ireland win to date.

And that, in the opinion of dynamic chairman John Keenan and his fellow officers, is a situation that requires remedial action.

Now, with county team boss Brian McIver having almost single-handedly sparked a new wave of football fervour within Oak Leaf territory, optimism abounds that meaningful success could be in the offing.

With Derry having already achieved promotion to Division One of the Allianz League, the Owenbeg now transformed into one of Ulster's finest secondary county grounds, a marked increase in attendances at club championship matches and a particularly strong focus on next Sunday's county final, the feelgood factor is prevalent once again.

Derry officials don't mince their words in assessing their team's status in an Ulster context.

"It's 15 years since we last won an Ulster title but over the past year since Brian McIver has been in charge there has been a strong emphasis on nurturing fresh talent and with promotion having been attained in the league, this has led to fresh confidence being inculcated in the players," points out PRO Dermot McPeake.

Manager McIver has cast his net wide in a search for talent and right now players such as Benny Heron, Ciaran McFaul, Ryan Bell, Ryan Scott, Gareth McKinless, Emmet Bradley and Ciaran Conway look set to form a big part of the fabric of the Derry side of the upcoming years.

Heron and Bell in particular will have key roles for Ballinascreen and Ballinderry respectively in Sunday's football final at Celtic Park which is expected to attract a huge crowd.

"Over the course of our championship a number of younger players have come to the fore and this is very encouraging. They will get the chance to play against top-class sides when we make our debut in Division One next February and that's something to which we are all looking forward," points out McPeake.

Derry followers have often in the past been criticised for their lukewarm attitude in contrast to their Tyrone counterparts who might be prepared to pay money to watch their team's minor shirts drying on a clothes line!

But the Derry board's decision to stage double-bill championship encounters which have been priced at £6 not only represents good value but is winning over a whole new generation of fans.

"I think that the county board's decision to go for this value for money policy is proving a real winner," states spokesman McPeake. "If people are prepared to come out and see club matches, surely you would expect they will come out in big numbers to see teams like Dublin, Kerry, Tyrone and Mayo if we are fortunate enough to draw them at home come the spring."

Team boss McIver, who has undertaken a forensic study of the county championship, reiterates the promise he made when he took over the reins.

"If a player is good enough, then he is old enough. The door is always open and we are delighted to see the number of younger players coming through."

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