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Keeper McKinless keen to get hands on the starting role

 

By John Campbell

The prospect of forming the last line of defence against a Tyrone attack that, when in form, can wreak havoc is calculated to discomfit even the more experienced of goalkeepers.

But 18-year-old Derry ace Ben McKinless, far from fearing the Red Hands' front line, is keeping his fingers crossed that manager Damian Barton will give him his Ulster Championship debut on Sunday.

McKinless (right) and Thomas Mallon shared the goalkeeping duties for a portion of the Allianz League, but now that Mallon has departed the squad, the odds on McKinless being handed the No.1 jersey have shortened considerably.

The strapping Ballinderry clubman is taking nothing for granted, though.

"Facing Tyrone in a derby game in which the stakes are high can be daunting but my aim will be to try and keep a clean sheet if I am selected," observed McKinless. "Our defence had undergone changes at the start of the league, and maybe we were not at our tightest at times, but we have been working on things in training and hopefully the benefits of this will be seen on Sunday."

McKinless has been showing the kind of commitment in training that has impressed Barton and his management team but the agile custodian is aware that Derry face huge pressure going into Sunday's contest.

"Everyone is talking about how many times Tyrone beat us last year and all that, but the fact of the matter is that this is a whole new ball game on Sunday. For a start, both teams have undergone changes from last year, we both have learned from our experiences in the league and we know it is all to play for," stated McKinless.

"Experience obviously means a lot in terms of the Ulster Championship but I think now in the modern game if a player is deemed to be good enough then he will be put into any side irrespective of his age.

"If I get my chance on Sunday I would love to take it with both hands. I am certainly looking forward to the game because these are the kind of occasions for which you train hard and apply yourself during the winter."

Tyrone, who scored just two goals from play in the Allianz League, against Dublin and Kerry through Aidan McCrory and Peter Harte, are certain to try and find the net early on Sunday in a bid to replicate their victory of last year, a fact of which McKinless is only too well aware.

"We certainly don't want to find ourselves chasing the game. That's what happened last summer and we have to guard against this happening if we can," added McKinless.

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