McErlain in bid to bring Derry rising stars to fore
Derry football boss Damian McErlain may be without some of his most talented players but this does not defuse his optimism in relation to tonight's Bank of Ireland McKenna Cup clash with Tyrone at Celtic Park (8.00).
With Terence O'Brien deploying his talents with UUJ and Niall Toner looking lively with St Mary's, the Oak Leaf influence is set to become more pronounced.
But while McErlain is monitoring the performances of his players who are not currently wearing the famous red and white jersey, he is nonetheless keen to assess a number of U20 starlets who have been under his command at minor level in recent years.
That's why Oran Hartin, Eoghan Concannon and Ryan Dougan are among those who will get game time against a Red Hands side which on paper looks a potent blend of youth and experience.
The Derry young guns will complement the experience of Enda Lynn, Christopher Bradley, Emmett Bradley, Ryan Bell, Ciaran McFaul and Gareth McKinless while Slaughtneil's powerhouse Padraig Cassidy is set to further his prospects of becoming a regular at midfield.
While McErlain is happy to have seven Slaughtneil players on board including the McKaigues, Chrissy and Karl, along with Meehaul McGrath, Shane McGuigan and Paul McNeill, he is clearly keen to put emerging talent under the microscope against the kind of opponents who will ask big questions of them.
Derry face a tough itinerary in their bid to get out of Division Four and McErlain believes that an encouraging McKenna Cup campaign could sow the seeds for progress.
Tyrone boss Mickey Harte, meanwhile, has included 11 newcomers in his squad for tonight's game with just four players who faced Dublin in this year's All-Ireland final included.
Returning trio Kyle Coney, Darren McCurry and Conan Grugan are given key roles in the team while the Sludden duo, Ruairi and Niall, are included in an attack which also contains Cathal McShane and David Mulgrew.
Old hand Aidan McCrory is named at centre-half-back while Niall Morgan will wear the No 1 jersey.
Harte's desire to win every match in which his team participates is certain to ensure his side bid to slip into top gear quickly.
"We like playing in the McKenna Cup and we like winning it," maintains Harte.
"We want to win as many games as we can because this could get us more games.
"If we were fortunate enough to get through to the semi-finals then that would be a bonus. Any extra games would certainly stand us in good stead for the league, that's for sure."
Donegal ended Tyrone's six-year dominance of the competition when they lifted the trophy in the early part of this year and Harte has already made it clear that he relishes the prospect of it returning to the custody of his side.
"We still see the McKenna Cup as an important competition and it is still worth winning in my book. Derry will be very keen to get into their stride early just like ourselves so it should be an interesting contest," adds Harte.
"The challenge is there for players to bid for regular places in each side.
"I still see value in the McKenna Cup even though there are those who are against it."
After tonight's game Tyrone will meet UUJ on January 6 while Derry will confront Fermanagh on the same date.
Meanwhile, Derry have confirmed that their new senior county hurling manager is former Dublin U21 boss John McEvoy.
He will be assisted by Johnny McGuirk, a former Dublin U21 and minor manager who also served as a selector with the senior team.
Ex-Cushendall and Antrim player Brian Delargy is also on board as Derry aim to show a step-up in performance next year following a rather disappointing 2018.
Derry: O Hartin; SF Quinn, C Mulholland; E Concannon, G McKinless, E McGill; R Dougan; E Bradley, P Cassidy; C McFaul, C Bradley, P Coney; J Rocks, R Bell, E Lynn.
Tyrone: N Morgan; L Rafferty, R Brennan, C McLaughlin; T McCann, A McCrory, B McDonnell; C Grugan, B Kennedy; N Sludden, K Coney, C McShane; D McCurry, D Mulgrew, R Sludden.