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Derry plan on a united front for Ulster bid

By John Campbell

A major drive aimed at establishing a greater level of unity within the GAA in Derry is being launched.

And clubs in particular are being encouraged to participate fully in the initiative which will seek to generate a more positive and vibrant spirit in the county ahead of their all-important Ulster Senior Football Championship opener, in which the Oak Leaf side will meet either Donegal or Cavan on May 27.

County board officers including chairman Brian Smith are known to be concerned about the wave of depression which has engulfed the county since Derry were relegated to Division Four in the league and are now anxious to trigger a spirit of optimism.

An invitation has been sent to all clubs asking their secretary and chairperson to attend a meeting next Friday (May 4) at Owenbeg.

The meeting is set to be an open forum and will be facilitated by the county's advisory committee.

Chairman Smith pointed out: "Their remit is to encourage discussion around a range of pertinent issues and come forward with recommendations for the County Executive, which we will respond to."

He refers to "a considerable amount of commentary on GAA in Derry lately" relative to the performances of the county football team in particular.

"It is important that club representatives have the opportunity to speak openly and honestly about how they see the relationship between our clubs and the county administration," he stressed.

"We, as a county board, are now very much in listening mode and recognise that we have a responsibility to reignite the passion we all have for our county teams in Derry and it is a challenge that I am willing to respond to."

It was in the aftermath of Derry's relegation to Division Four that county team boss Damian McErlain issued an impassioned plea urging supporters to get behind the players in their bid to regain credibility over the course of the forthcoming Championship season.

Derry, who last won the Ulster title 20 years ago, endured a traumatic experience in the league, conceding high scores in a number of matches and falling to Sligo at the last hurdle.

But McErlain, in his first season in charge having spent three years at the helm of the county minor side, is clearly determined that the Ulster Championship should prove a path to redemption for his squad.

"The players have been working very, very hard. They all want to play for Derry and that is important. They want to put the situation in which they now find themselves following the league right again," insisted McErlain.

"They are keen to salvage a bit of pride over the course of the summer and I think they should be given every encouragement in trying to achieve this."

McErlain is having to exercise patience while Derry await confirmation as to just who their opponents will be on May 27. With Donegal due to host Cavan on May 13, they will then have only a fortnight in which to fine-tune their plans for their biggest match of the year to date.

"Obviously we have to wait and see what the outcome of the preliminary round match is and then we will know what's ahead of us," added McErlain.

Should Derry manage to upset the formbook and hurdle either Cavan or Donegal, both of whom are now Division One sides, then they would meet either Down or Antrim in the second semi-final of the Championship on June 10.

The first semi-final is scheduled for June 3 and will see the winners of the Fermanagh v Armagh tie take on the victors of the clash between holders Tyrone and Monaghan.

Belfast Telegraph


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