McErlain sees real progress as Derry defy the romantics
Derry 0-20 Leitrim 0-16
The romantics would have been all-out for a Leitrim win in Croke Park, with the county virtually empty for the day, but realists know that Derry played in a Division One league final as recently as 2014.
Their presence in Division Four this season was no result of a gradual slide, more the result of a few years when poor planning was followed by catastrophic luck and they found themselves doing the rounds of grounds such as Kilmallock and Fraher Field. Around the heartlands of Ballinderry and Slaughtneil, they might never speak of this unpleasantness again after Chrissy McKaigue lifted the Division Four title.
Leitrim ran into an early lead, shooting plentiful wides while getting themselves into a good position, but Derry's quality just exerted itself as the game wore on. hey had fashioned a three-point advantage at half-time, 0-10 to 0-7, and relied on that through the second half as they killed off the contest.
"We expected a very tough challenge, their forward line. And we looked at their forward line, and I felt that came through today as well," said Oak Leaf manager Damian McErlain afterwards.
"So we had thought that of other forward lines, but they showed that today. They put up 20 scores.
"They were a well-prepared side, really, really passionate about their county. But as we keep telling people, that we are really, really passionate about our county too, no matter what anybody says."
"Well, our priority was to get promoted," said Leitrim manager, former Cavan boss Terry Hyland. "So we park today and we move on to the Championship."
Getting out of the zombie league of the basement division is all that matters for Derry, according to McErlain.
"Promotion yes is number one. Number two is getting our team together, that we are progressively improving all the time.
"It was a tough league, we had challenges within the league, but winning is a habit and we have dug it out in games. But today, to come here and score 20 points against a very good Leitrim side who have sort of blew the rest of the league away, was pleasing. And it is up to the rest of us to kick on and have a bit of belief in the county."
There were no bonfires for the returning Derry heroes on Saturday night. Division Four is where they ended up but the reasons some day will be worthy of study.
For now, they will have one date in their mind. May 12th.
They journey a short distance to face Tyrone in the Ulster Championship and despite what many may feel, it will be so much closer than recent meetings.
"It's a challenge," said McErlain, of facing their neighbours.
"We have seen how they have played in their last couple of games and how direct their style is.
"That team are together four or five years to get to where they are now, a good age profile, physically they are superb. It's a big challenge for us but it is up to ourselves to see what we can do to frustrate them. Omagh is not far away. Boys will go back to their clubs now next week and train with them and play four games and we hope come through that unscathed from injuries. Whenever the Championship comes around we will try to work it out."
Derry: T Mallon; B Rogers, K McKaigue, P McNeill; M McEvoy, C McKaigue 0-2, N Keenan; E Bradley 0-2, C McAtamney; P Cassidy 0-1, E Lynn 0-2, C Doherty; S McGuigan 0-6, 0-1 free, 0-1 mark, R Bell 0-4, 0-1 free, C Bradley 0-2, 0-1 free.
Subs: B Heron for Lynn (50m), N Toner 0-1, for Bell (50m), J Rocks for Doherty (59m), E McGill for K McKaigue (64m), R Dougan for C Bradley (71m).
Leitrim: C McCrann; A Flynn, M McWeeney 0-1, P Maguire 0-1; R Mulvey 0-1, S McWeeney, C McGloin; M Plunkett 0-1, S Moran 0-1; S Quinn, R O'Rourke 0-6, 0-4 free, D McGovern 0-1; D Flynn 0-1 free, E Mulligan 0-1, E Sweeney 0-2, 0-1 m).
Subs: P Dolan for McGloin (32m), D Rooney for Mulligan (45m), D Moran for S Moran (50m), C Reynolds for A Flynn (60m), J Heslin for D Flynn (65m).
Referee: B Cawley (Kildare).