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Derry need an all new mindset, warns McErlain

Game plan: Damian McErlain wants to see Derry go on the attack
Game plan: Damian McErlain wants to see Derry go on the attack
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

After a spring campaign in which they were overwhelming favourites for every league game in Division Four, Derry manager Damian McErlain believes his side have to make a sharp adjustment in mindset ahead of this Sunday's Ulster Championship preliminary round clash with neighbours Tyrone in Omagh.

The Oak Leaf County are priced at 13/2 to spring what would be a huge shock against last year's All-Ireland finalists.

And the form guide isn't great either. In Championship meetings in 2016 and 2017 in Celtic Park, Derry lost both games against Tyrone by 11 points.

With that as the backdrop, McErlain believes they have to raise their level of performance considerably.

"If we hand them the ball the way we gave the ball away to Leitrim in the first 20 minutes, the game will be over like it has been the last two years we have played Tyrone," said the Magherafelt man.

"I spoke about that after the league final. Those are the differences. When we attack in games, you will see us look like a good side and when Tyrone attack, they look like a good side.

"It is the team that stops giving the ball away that is the team that has probably the biggest chance of winning the game.

"That's the difference, when you really start analysing, between the divisions - who masters the ball and who doesn't."

Every county has an arrangement that they all share footage of their games into a central pool so there isn't much Tyrone will miss, but McErlain believes they can keep a certain level of nuance hidden for the big day.

"The other thing about playing in Division Four, Tyrone won't have the same perspective as to what the other opposition is like. And that is a very real thing. It is alright watching us play on video in the league," he said.

"Tyrone will have enough belief in their own game and they will know our players with the local element of the thing. We know each other so well.

"They'll have their own ideas on how to stretch us and how to beat us, the same as we do about them."

This Sunday, the Derry defence is expected to include Chrissy and Karl McKaigue, Brendan Rogers and Paul McNeill, all of Slaughtneil, who haven't been able to take part in the last few league campaigns due to club commitments.

Having them back in for pre-season has made a huge difference, McErlain insists.

"It's night and day. It's like asking you to build a house and just use half the foundations and hope it stays up," he said.

"That's what it is like. It's not just having the quality of player on the pitch, it's the fact that they are here every night and they are hearing the one message, we are all going one way at the one time."

He continued: "They are not listening for three months and having to repeat and integrate. They have been a really good influence and it has been great to have them about.

"You see from some of them why they are successful in their own mentality towards the thing and that's what we need the young players seeing, night in and night out. This is how real county players behave and prepare."

In his second year as manager, McErlain sees much to admire in his opposite number Mickey Harte, and believes Derry could benefit from the same sort of stability that has the veteran in the job for his 17th season.

"Whether that is me or not will be up to other people," he said.

"Regardless though if it is me, or if I stay on or not, Derry needs stability of some sort, whether it is under-age coaches coming through, just a familiarity for the young players who will be stepping up.

"The fact I was the minor manager has helped lads with that step up into the panel."

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