McErlain blasts back at Tyrone's detractors
Tyrone manager Mickey Harte has just received a timely boost from a rather unexpected source as he fine-tunes preparations for his team's hugely attractive Ulster Championship quarter-final showdown with great rivals Monaghan on Sunday at Healy Park, Omagh.
Derry manager Damian McErlain, who is preparing to make his touchline championship debut when his side face Donegal on Sunday week, has come out strongly against what he feels is the "loads of negativity" surrounding Ulster football.
And the straight-talking McErlain, who now hopes his side can chart a path of redemption following their demotion to Division Four in the league, feels that Tyrone get "a particularly rough time" from the critics.
"Everybody gives out about Tyrone being defensive and all that goes with this, and I believe they get a particularly rough time," states McErlain.
"But they lifted the Ulster Championship title last year by kicking scores for fun and won every match by handsome margins while playing some brilliant football in the process.
"Obviously things did not go well against Dublin in the All-Ireland semi-final for them but that can happen on any given day.
"For me, Tyrone are an attacking side and I can't understand why everybody talks about them having no forwards.
"I would love to have four or five of the boys they have running about. As far as I am concerned, Tyrone are good to watch, they don't play any differently to anyone else as far as I can see."
With Tyrone targeting what would be a third successive Ulster title for the first time in their history, McErlain suggests that with their ambition they could prove difficult to stop from achieving this goal.
Having taken in the Donegal versus Cavan match on Sunday, he is now totally focussed on the details of his planning for the quarter-final against Donegal for which he claims his side will be "decided underdogs".
Like Derry, Donegal also suffered relegation, their descent to Division Two coming as a disappointment to manager Declan Bonner.
But the manner in which they disposed of a Cavan side that had travelled to Ballybofey with high hopes of getting over their first hurdle in the Championship has shone a new light on the north-west side.
McErlain is certain that even with home advantage his team will now have their work cut out to make it into a semi-final meeting with Down or Antrim.
"Donegal chalked up some big scores in the league and they hit Cavan for 2-20 on Sunday. People talk about Gaelic football becoming more defensive and yet the scores are free-flowing, so it's a bit of a conundrum, isn't it?" McErlain surmised.
"All teams now have players who can score from every position.
"You have corner backs coming up and sticking over points - the game has seldom been more attacking in nature.
"There were some great scores in the league, and indeed in last Sunday's game in Ballybofey, which underlines the quality in finishing there is to be witnessed."
McErlain, who revealed last week that it's only now he has managed to assemble the squad which he would have liked to have available to him since the start of the year, confirmed that his players are totally focussed on the Ulster Championship and have drawn a curtain over their league campaign.
"We saw on Sunday what Donegal are capable of doing and we know where we ourselves are," McErlain points out.
"We intend to put our best-laid plans down and try and compete. We really intend to go for the win.
"The Ulster Championship is still there for the taking and every team still in the frame will feel that this is the case as things are at this point in time."
Derry could yet be without Benny Heron for the clash with Donegal but Terence O'Brien is expected to be fit.
With his Slaughtneil contingent back in the fold and training having gone well to date, McErlain is understandably in more upbeat mood as D-Day approaches.
"There is a great spirit within the squad, everyone is looking forward to this match against Donegal. It's a big chance for us to prove ourselves," insists McErlain.