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McErlain is sure Derry can silence their critics

 

By John Campbell

Derry football manager Damian McErlain is currently cutting his teeth in the job against the most intimidating backdrop possible.

Following a modest Bank of Ireland Dr McKenna Cup campaign in which they drew with UUJ but lost to Down and Armagh, Derry have fallen further from grace by succumbing to both Westmeath and Longford in Division Three of the Allianz League.

All of this makes victory against Offaly at Celtic Park on Sunday absolutely essential if McErlain's men are to avoid becoming fully immersed in a relegation dog-fight at this early stage of the season.

Scarcely had the final whistle sounded in last Sunday's shattering 1-13 to 1-6 loss to Longford than the keyboard warriors were in full flight with speculation surrounding relegation uppermost in their thoughts.

But McErlain, who knew he was taking on a massive challenge when he stepped into the void left by his predecessor Damian Barton, remains unflappable as he bids to plot Derry's path to redemption.

"I always said it was going to be difficult in Division Three and the fact that we have lost our first two matches makes it all the harder for us," acknowledges McErlain.

"But there are five more matches to play and we have to re-group and try and come good. There is not much to choose between the sides in this division but having said that we have not made it easy for ourselves."

The concession of two early goals in their 2-17 to 2-14 defeat to Westmeath in the opening round of fixtures was followed by an anaemic performance from the attack in the setback against Longford and McErlain concedes that the pressure is now on his team to come up with a result against an Offaly side which has also lost their two opening games, to Longford and Fermanagh.

McErlain is conscious that his side have still to play Armagh and Fermanagh in what will be contests spliced with an Ulster derby flavour but before then he is keen to see his side improve their position in the league table.

"We obviously need a win against Offaly to give us a bit of comfort going into the league break. The team has undergone changes but we have home advantage and I think if we get off to a good start we will be in with a big chance," maintains McErlain.

A cloud of despondency may currently hang over the county but there are plus-factors amid the gloom.

Three of McErlain's players - Michael McEvoy, Terence O'Brien and Danny Tallon - turned in fine performances for UUJ in what was an emphatic 4-6 to 0-11 Sigerson Cup quarter-final win over University of Limerick on Tuesday in Jordanstown which has earned them a place in next week's semi-final.

With younger players such as Oran Hartin, Padraig McGrogan and Conor Doherty beginning to find their feet at senior level, McErlain has cause for optimism although it seems clear that some fans at any rate are not prepared to be patient while his team-building process continues.

A number of players walked away from the Derry squad towards the end of last year leaving McErlain with the unenviable task of trying to plug gaps while at the same time hoping to improve his county's status.

Not surprisingly, this is proving extremely difficult. McErlain assumed command following three years spent as minor team boss during which time he helped to nurture a rich crop of talent.

Now he finds himself at the helm of a county which has not won the Ulster Championship since 1998 and which last tasted league success in 2008.

He is hoping to get more game time from experienced players such as Benny Heron and Mark Lynch and of course there is certain to be a red carpet welcome awaiting his Slaughtneil contingent when they return from All-Ireland club duty.

Slaughtneil are due to meet Cork and Munster champions Nemo Rangers on February 24 and should they win that tie they will then go forward to meet the winners of the other semi-final between Corofin (Galway) and Moorefield (Kildare) in the decider.

But there remains the distinct possibility that McErlain could be deprived of the services of his numerous Slaughtneil county representatives for the duration of the league.

Belfast Telegraph

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