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Bosses banking on veterans

Much has been made of the roles which senior citizens in the Derry and Donegal line-ups have fulfilled en route to Sunday's Ulster football final at Clones.

But last night Oak Leaf boss John Brennan admitted that the manner in which younger players on both teams step up to the mark will prove a significant factor in determining the outcome of the contest.

For a number of Derry players, the semi-final win over Armagh marked their first taste of action at St Tiernach's Park, which is still regarded by many as the spiritual home of Ulster football.

This perhaps more than anything illustrates how inexperience could yet prove a handicap when the intensity is ratcheted up on Sunday.

And that's why Brennan wants Derry's old hands to "look after" the younger brigade in what is the county's first final appearance since 2000.

"Obviously nerves could affect younger players more. The fact that some of my players were only in Clones for the first time last month says it all - they had no reason to be there to support Derry teams in recent years, unfortunately," says Brennan pointedly.

"Now I want people like Enda Muldoon, Barry McGoldrick, Mark Lynch, Conleith Gilligan and others to take the younger guys under their wing and look after them."

Not surprisingly, Donegal boss Jim McGuinness is depending on veterans such as Kevin Cassidy, Neil McGee, Paul Durcan, Rory Kavanagh and Colm McFadden to encourage and motivate his young guns as they strive to help bring an end to their county's 19-year title famine.

Championship crowds may be down overall but Brennan and McGuinness share the view that a much different atmosphere than has been sampled up until now will pertain on Sunday.

Brennan explains: "When we played Armagh in the semi-final there was something like 15,000 people at the game - on Sunday there will be twice that number. And there will be greater tension - the pre-match parade, the fact that the teams have to be out earlier on the pitch, the formalities.

"All this can create pressure for players and in this situation I would expect our experienced boys to extend a helping hand to our inexperienced players."

The absence of the Bradley brothers Paddy and Eoin, who between them have 20 years experience of playing with Derry, could be felt in this connection but Brennan still believes his team's psyche to be such that they will cope with the demands of the occasion.

James Kielt (21), Cailean O'Boyle (21), Emmett McGuckin (20) and Declan Mullan (21) are among the starlets he hopes to see flourishing, while for goalkeeper Danny Devlin (27) and midfield Micheal Friel (24) this will be only their third championship game.

Donegal will look to the explosive scoring power of skipper Michael Murphy (22), Dermot 'Brick' Molloy (20) and Patrick McBrearty (17) to unhinge Derry's defensive mechanism, while Mark McHugh (21) could find himself in the role of playmaker with Paddy McGrath (22) propping up the defence and Michael McElhinney (22) having a key role in the middle third of the park.

But the final will be far from a youngsters' playground. Enda Muldoon (33) is the only survivor from the Derry team that last won the title in 1998, Michael Hegarty has played in three Ulster finals with Donegal (2002, 2004 and 2006) and finished up on the losing side on all three occasions, while Kevin Cassidy has tasted defeat in two deciders.

It's hardly surprising then that there is a voracious hunger for success within both teams - with the title comes the Anglo-Celt Cup and a place in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

Defeat would mean utter devastation - and an intimidating All- Ireland qualifier against Meath or Kildare tomorrow week. Is it any wonder that the latter is not on the radar of either side?

Belfast Telegraph