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McErlain full of hope Derry can pull off another seismic shock

 

By Declan Bogue

There's little else you can ask Derry manager Damian McErlain on the week of a Championship game, except point out the elephant in the room and ask if his panel can put their worst league season behind them, as they slid into Division Four.

"We had a fortnight off after the league ended, and it was April 2 before we had everyone back in the room who had been involved. So that nearly tells how things went," is his reply.

Derry welcome Donegal to the Lone Moor Road venue tomorrow and, while Donegal's preliminary round destruction of Cavan has people excited about their prospects, it's fair to say that in the popular imagination, Derry carry no more threat than a feather duster.

However, that is to ignore the little developments going on in the background that make a huge difference.

The Slaughtneil seven are back, and along with them came veteran Sean Leo McGoldrick on the back of recommendations of the quality of the set-up.

While they shed a number of seasoned players for various reasons, there is a general brightness around the place and conviction held deep down that Derry are far from the mess they are reported to be in.

Nobody would know that better than McErlain, having managed the recent minor successes of 2015 and 2017, while being intimately aware of the work going on behind the scenes.

"We set out that night how we would go about making things right and what the plan was for the next seven weeks and all the things we needed to address. The boys responded immediately and we had an excellent session, and that has continued right through," says the Magherafelt man.

"But it does feel like a new phase, a new year, because we now have a full squad for the first time. And during the league you were out in all kinds of weather, the pitches were desperate, which did not help us as a new management team with a new team to get going.

"Over the last number of weeks we got a bit more work done in that regard, but it is all right doing it out there, we have got to show it on Sunday."

McErlain is one of the seven brothers involved in the running and management of Genesis Bakery, and comes in contact with the public all the time.

He couldn't escape the general doom and gloom of the league campaign any more than the next man and vows: "The residue of disappointment as a result of the spring will not be got rid of until next spring.

"There is no point worrying about it at this point. This is the Championship. We are obviously very disappointed to have gone down to Division Four and we have the quality not to be there, but we have to show that next year.

"In terms of the Championship, the players we have available to us and the way we have prepared over the last number of weeks, we will be looking to produce a performance that does not reflect a Division Four team."

In 2015, he took a Derry minor team to Clones for a Championship game against Donegal, All-Ireland minor finalists the year before, and upset serious odds. There are certain similarities at play here.

"We had absolute minimal support in Clones that night and we put in a performance which elevated us at that time and probably our management team as well. We realised the work which we put into that performance had to become the benchmark for the next three years."

He was an interested spectator in Ballybofey two weeks ago.

The structures and philosophies that he had as minor manager have been imported wholesale into the senior panel.

The beginnings have been shaky. But they carry hope into the summer.

Belfast Telegraph

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