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Eoin needs more than minor success

By Declan Bogue

There is a picture of the All-Ireland winning Derry minor team of 2002 that hangs in Eoin McNicholl's home. He isn't one for staring at it, but in the team picture featuring him as goalkeeper, he counts the players that went on to play senior for their county.

Mark Lynch is now captain and in the form of his life having been relocated to centre back. Ger O'Kane, Barry McGoldrick and Patsy Bradley are also mainstays of the present team. Others came and went, such as Ciaran Mullen, Conleth Moran, Joe Keenan, Michael McGoldrick, Ruairi Convery, Paul O'Hea, Paul Young and Cathal O'Kane.

It took until this year for McNicholl to make the progression.

Fate intervened against him in 2006, when Paddy Crozier seemed keen.

"He (Crozier) added me onto the panel at McKenna Cup stage," recalls the goalkeeper, "but there was a ruling at that time; I was doing a placement on leave from Jordanstown so I was at home. I was training away at Jordanstown and it looked as if I was going to number one 'keeper that year.

"I just couldn't make the commitment going up and down from Derry to Belfast three times a week. I pulled the pin with Jordanstown football a month before the McKenna Cup.

"By that stage, they had already submitted their panel to the Ulster Council. Only two weeks later, Paddy Crozier asked me onboard and I said I would be delighted as it was a bit closer to home."

Cup-tied so to speak for the McKenna Cup, Crozier needed another goalkeeper so brought in McNicholl's clubmate Shane O'Kane, who made the National League panel.

Ever since, the rivalry for the Glenullin goalkeeper's jersey has been fierce between the two, but McNicholl's form last year earned him a call-up from Brian McIver.

"A lot of ones in the club had said I put myself in a good position after last year's championship and league campaign with the club. I would be in with a shout.

"I honestly thought the likes of Barry Gillis, Michael Conlon, boys that would have been there before were more or less certs for the number one," he recalls.

"Whenever I was asked for a trial, again I thought there was only going to be one or two boys that were in the reckoning.

"Whenever I got the call from Brian I was just hoping to get in," McNicholl adds.

On Sunday, he starts in the Division Two final, 11 years on from winning the minor All-Ireland. It's the fulfilment of a childhood dream.

"As a young boy, that was what you wanted to do, you wanted to get out in front of the big crowds and play for Derry."

Derry (v Westmeath, NFL 2 final): E McNicholl; A McAlynn, C McKaigue, G O'Kane; C Kielt, M Lynch, SL McGoldrick; P Bradley, R Bell; D Heavron, J Kielt, E Lynn; B Heron, E Bradley, R Wilkinson.

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