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Derry face an uphill battle in bid to land U21 honours

By John Campbell

Derry would have to search very intensively for comfort from a championship season that has yielded nothing at senior level in both mainstream GAA codes.

Yet all is not doom and gloom. The Under-20 football side reached the All-Ireland semi-finals only to falter against Mayo (2-14 to 2-11), while the minor side reached the Ulster final only to suffer disappointment against Monaghan.

But it's to their Under-21 hurlers that the Derry GAA fraternity will now turn to for the tangible rewards of success today.

The Oak Leaf side will meet Kerry in the All-Ireland U21 B final at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny (2.00) where they will come under a microscopic examination from a side that has been a dominant force at this level of late.

Derry were put to the pin of their collar by a stubborn Meath side in their semi-final before coming out on top by 3-16 to 3-14.

But they can expect an even more rigorous test in today's Richie McElligott Cup decider from a Kingdom side whose appetite for glory appears to be far from sated.

Derry, though, clearly relish the challenge, their confidence and cohesion having been cushioned by their progress to date.

But manager Collie McGurk makes it clear that nothing less than total commitment from first to last whistle will suffice if they are to collect the silverware.

"I thought against Meath we shot far too many wides in the first-half and indeed our shot selection was poor at times," admitted McGurk.

"But I have to say that I was very proud of the way in which the players battled right until the end. This paid off for them, but it will be even harder today because Kerry are a good side and are accustomed to winning ways."

Richie Mullan's 1-7 underpinned Derry's win over Meath and, if he can replicate this form, then his side will be in with a big chance.

Brian Cassidy, Shane McGuigan, John Mullan and Corey O'Reilly are other Oak Leaf players who can help the side find their rhythm and scoring touch, with McGuigan currently in fine form and O'Reilly an ace goal poacher.

Kerry strolled to a massive 4-26 to 0-8 victory over Sligo in their semi-final, so Derry have been duly warned in relation to what they can expect this afternoon.

The Kingdom attack has been on song during the championship to date and their fire-power will ensure the Derry defence is kept on its toes for the duration of the game.

Derry manager McGurk believes, however, that should his side replicate the qualities they revealed against Meath then they can make a bold push for the title.

"Kerry are the favourites because of their recent track record, but there is a great spirit in this Derry side," he said.

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