Belfast Telegraph

Home Sport GAA

McErlain thinks of bigger picture as he rests his Slaughtneil sextet

By Declan Bogue

Derry senior football manager Damian McErlain has revealed that he is prepared to let his Slaughtneil contingent sit out the entire Allianz League campaign as the over-worked stars come to terms with their All-Ireland Club disappointment.

The Newbridge man has made the decision to let vice-captain Brendan Rogers and his five clubmates have an extended break after their pursuit of All-Ireland Club titles - which has been ongoing for the best part of four years with no break - to avoid burning the key men out.

It is a welcome change of a manager putting player welfare ahead of short-term gain.

The club footballers were beaten last weekend by Nemo Rangers after extra-time, following the hurlers' exit to Limerick's Na Piarsaigh a fortnight earlier, sparking hopes that Rogers, along with Christopher and Karl McKaigue, Padraig Cassidy, Paul McNeill and Shane McGuigan, might be back for the league fixtures before Storm Emma had the final say.

But their re-introduction to the group will be a phased process, insists McErlain.

"We can't rush them back. We want them coming back and being an addition for us. If you are forcing men back who are just after a long season like that - in fact, they are not after one long season, they are after two long seasons - and two years in a row of that, mentally and physically, there is going to be a toll on them," he explained.

"They need to normalise their lives a bit, for a few weeks anyway and see where that takes them. For us, it is more about them.

"I know we have been working without them and we have a small enough panel. But we know what they can offer. Them coming back to us fresh and keen to get at it again, rather than us insisting they come back and them resenting that or being indifferent to the whole thing because there is still exhaustion there or a feeling of tiredness, they just need those few weeks out to get their head showered."

With Derry struggling for league points towards the bottom half of Division Three - their only win coming against pointless Offaly - the temptation would be strong among some managers to bolster a defence that is under-performing with the two McKaigues, McNeill and Rogers, while Cassidy has developed into one of the finest attacking midfielders in the province over the last couple of seasons, and McGuigan a very promising youthful attacker.

"We consciously made the decision that we are not ringing the other five lads at all, until at least the end of this week, to give them a wee bit of space," explained McErlain.

"They have just been beaten in an All-Ireland semi-final. They don't need me ringing and getting up their nose when they are still trying to get over that."

Such long-term thinking is consistent with the message Derry have been promoting since the start of the league, with McErlain giving many of the minor teams that he had managed for the past three years their chance in senior football.

"There is no doubt, you have to have patience. We sort of know what we have and what we are going to have when our whole panel develops," he continued.

"Patience is absolutely paramount. We are starting as a new management team, we are starting with a new group and we have struggled the last couple of years.

"I suppose it is going to take time, it is going to take patience for everybody. Ideally we would have had everybody out on the pitch with us since we started training but that hasn't been the case either. There has been a whole range of things that have made it slower over the winter. Even the weather, it's difficult getting on the grass and bringing the thing together.

"But we are pretty happy internally with how things have been going. The boys are all working very hard, the set-up is a pretty happy camp. There are no questions about that.

"It is going to take patience, year on year progression to get there.

"Once we get everybody onto the pitch I am pretty confident we will make strides."

Belfast Telegraph

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.


From Belfast Telegraph