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McErlain: a club-only month is just not practical

Hitting out: Damian McErlain is unhappy with April being a club-only month
Hitting out: Damian McErlain is unhappy with April being a club-only month
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Derry manager Damian McErlain has joined the growing number of inter-county managers to have expressed their dissatisfaction with the club-only month of April.

The Oak Leafers sealed the Division Four title with victory over Leitrim on Saturday, in doing so racking up eight wins from their eight-game programme.

However, the players will now turn out for their clubs at the weekends while continuing their training with the county.

"It doesn't work. It is not practical," said McErlain.

"The right men are not making these decisions. Set the county managers down together and tell them how to manage it. Organise that and I'd say they might make a better fist of it because they would consider the clubs.

"You are better just not having it because some counties play with starred games so it doesn't work."

'Starred games' is a term given to league matches within counties that clubs play against each other without their county players present. A certain number of these are played in almost every county in order to keep the overwhelming majority of players in action, but Derry are a total outlier as their stars do not miss a single club league game.

"In Derry, everybody wants to play in every club match and fair enough," said McErlain.

"That is a tough challenge for CCC (Competitions Control Committee). It is not easy, in fact it is almost impossible, so we can stand here and make all the comments we want but until they change the calendar, all the talk is nonsense."

The fear for McErlain is that his players will pick up injuries during a heavy schedule over April, ahead of their Ulster Championship opener against Tyrone in the May 12 preliminary round tussle.

"The players need to go back to their clubs and play. Our game being in the preliminary round does present a wee bit of a challenge, and it is not really fair on the two counties that are out so soon, but they will play the four games. They had seven to play last year so I am half relieved," said McErlain.

They were not at their best against Leitrim, but good enough to win. That level of performance will not be good enough against Tyrone, McErlain is quick to add.

"It is better those mistakes happened here and not against Tyrone because if we give the ball away like that against Tyrone it will be a score at the other end every time, whether it is a point or three points," he said.

"Those are the learnings and it will be the difference between us bridging the gap from playing in Division Four.

"Leitrim and ourselves were probably significantly the two best teams in Division Four and you saw that.

"We now have to step it up another gear, whether that be pace, athleticism, opposition punishing mistakes etc, so we have loads to take out of the game.

"These things all help the group to mature and hopefully we can do that and give Tyrone a better game."

Slaughtneil defence helps Derry

A full 20 months into his reign as Derry manager, Damian McErlain is only now getting to properly work with his full complement of players, which shows the anomaly in the system.

Slaughtneil’s impressive form through the All-Ireland series over the last number of years has coincided with three relegations under Brian McIver, Damian Barton and McErlain.

During that time, their defence was among the worst in the game during league campaigns.

On Saturday, McErlain was able to have an entirely Slaughtneil full-back line of Brendan Rogers, Paul McNeill and Karl McKaigue, while captain Chrissy McKaigue operates as a conductor for the defence.

With Padraig Cassidy, top-scoring Shane McGuigan and Christopher Bradley, there were seven Slaughtneil players in total starting for Derry. What a difference that makes.

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