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I have massive respect for Red Hands: McErlain

 

Respect: Damian McErlain is full of admiration for Tyrone
Respect: Damian McErlain is full of admiration for Tyrone
John Campbell

By John Campbell

Derry manager Damian McErlain will be doing everything in his power to ensure that Tyrone will experience a speedy exit from the Ulster Championship on Sunday, yet he remains one of the Red Hand county's greatest admirers.

McErlain, grounded as always, makes no attempt to camouflage just why the Red Hands are 1/10 to book a quarter-final place and offers a compellingly stark contrast between the teams.

"You're looking at a match between last year's beaten All-Ireland finalists and a team that has just come through Division Four of the league," says McErlain.

"When I was growing up, we were reared on going to watch Derry v Tyrone games. The supporters were always going at it as hard as the players. Tyrone is an unbelievable football county - everybody is just mad about football.

"Every man, woman and child is a fanatic. I have massive respect for Tyrone in that regard. I think we can get the rivalry up to that sort of pitch again and if we do we will have some game on Sunday.

"Derry have not been as competitive as they would like to have been for some time now but I think the atmosphere at Healy Park will bring out the best in both teams."

McErlain admits that he has looked on with more than a hint of envy as Tyrone have remained in the elite bracket spanning recent years but is hopeful that his own team can rise to the occasion this weekend.

"Tyrone are massively supported, they have got great structures, they are a big county and they have been competing at the top end of the scale now for ten, twenty, maybe thirty years now when you go back to their All-Ireland final appearance in 1986," points out McErlain.

But he is at pains to point out that while major trophies may have eluded his own county, the GAA fraternity at grassroots level there have not been dragging their feet.

"There's a lot of good work going on just as there is in other counties," insists McErlain. "We probably have a smaller pool of clubs than Tyrone but we are hopeful that over the course of the next few years we will be able to develop players who can also operate at the top end.

"Success in football tends to come in cycles. The Dubs were out of the picture for a long time and look where they are now. We in Derry feel we are bringing through players but the big challenge for them is to translate their potential into success at senior level."

McErlain is challenging his side to bring their A game to the table in what he views as a seminal match for them.

Promotion to Division Three would be dwarfed by any ration of progress that Derry might make in either the Ulster Championship or All-Ireland qualifiers or both.

Derry have not won the Ulster title since 1998 and their route through the qualifiers over the course of recent years in particular has been pockmarked by disaster and controversy.

"Our aim must be to get as much possession as possible and stay in the game for as long as possible," insists McErlain.

"You never know what might happen if we can manage to hang in there. We must eliminate mistakes as far as possible and try and take the scoring chances that come our way. We know it's going to be tough but we will be up for battle."

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