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Jack O'Connor's past triumphs won't faze Derry kids

By John Campbell

Published 22/08/2015

Top record: Jack O’Connor has
won three senior All-Irelands
Top record: Jack O’Connor has won three senior All-Irelands

It's not often that a minor team come up against opponents who just happen to be under the baton of a manager that has overseen three triumphs at All-Ireland senior level.

Yet when Derry confront Kerry in tomorrow's All-Ireland semi-final at Croke Park (1.30pm) they will not only be taking on a side that have already glided to the Munster title but one which will have Jack O'Connor, one of the most successful managers within the GAA since the onset of the Noughties, at the helm.

O'Connor masterminded senior All-Ireland success for the Kingdom in 2004, 2006 and 2009 and is regarded as an outstanding tactician and inspirational motivator.

And even though he is still very much lord of the manor at minor level, O'Connor was some weeks ago appointed manager of his county's Under-21 team for the next two years - and people wonder why Kerry are ahead of the field!

In contrast, Derry boss Damien McErlain, a director of the family wholesale bakery business in Magherafelt, is still on a fledgling course in his first year in charge with a side that have punched impressively above their weight to date.

In overcoming Down, Donegal and Cavan to win the Ulster title, Derry showed levels of skill, resilience and character that sees them prepare for tomorrow's test undeterred by O'Connor's formidable reputation.

McErlain encapsulates Derry's grounded approach to their biggest match of the year. He declared: "We have faith in ourselves although we know too that Kerry have good players but, at minor level especially, you can never be sure what a team is like as a unit until you meet them so we have to concentrate on our own game."

Kerry are the reigning All-Ireland champions and McErlain is acutely aware that O'Connor will be keen to take his leave of the side by ensuring that they retain their national crown.

Yet the manner in which his own side overcame the strongly-fancied Donegal outfit in particular before shredding Cavan's provincial title ambitions in the final indicates that his players will not be overawed by their task.

Conor Glass, Jack Doherty, Patrick Kearney, Shane McGuigan, Conor McGrogan and Francis Kearney are all key figures for Derry. O'Connor's experience and expansive tactical nous, though, will prove difficult obstacles.

Derry: C Mullan-Young; N Keenan, C McGrogan, C Maunsell; O Duffin, M McEvoy, E Concannon; P Kearney, J Doherty; P Coney, S Downey, C Glass; T Flanagan, F Kearney, S McGuigan.

Belfast Telegraph

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