Derry head to Casement Park on Sunday (1.30pm) to face Antrim in the Ulster Minor Hurling Championship final.
Derry stumbled to a place in this year’s Ulster minor final against Antrim, six points a reasonably comfortable margin of victory over Armagh in the semi-final, even though the performance would not have caused much of a frisson among the watching Antrim management.
What is certain though, is the Saffrons will provide a much sterner test of Brian McGilligan’s side’s credentials and the Dungiven man admitted his team need to move up a gear if they are to be successful.
“The only positive thing that could be taken from the Armagh game was that we won though I thought as the game went on we got into it more,” said McGilligan.
“The conditions for the semi-final did not help but it was one of those days when so many players were off form. Our defence was very good, although they did give away some easy frees which we won’t be able to afford for the final.
“On that performance there is definitely room for improvement. We have been working hard in training this past few weeks but in the semi-final we seemed to leave our form on the training pitch. All the good things we were doing in training during seemed to fall apart. Maybe the boys were a bit too confident going into the Armagh game, I’m not sure. Over the last couple of weeks we’ve tried to address the areas we thought needed some work and fix the problem.”
In their opening game of this year’s Championship Derry crushed Tyrone 5-17 to 0-01 at Healy Park with Banagher’s Shane Farren in excellent form as he helped himself to 0-09, including four frees. Dominic Mullan also helped himself to two goals with Oran McFlynn (1-01), Brendan Rodgers (1-01), Gerald Bradley (1-00), Cormac Doherty (0-04), Brian Og McGilligan and Niall Farren (0-01 each) all getting on the scoresheet in a forgettable game.
The quarter-final, at least on paper, looked a much stiffer test as McGilligan’s team met Down but the 3-19 to 2-09 scoreline highlighted a team growing in confidence. Farren, with a superb 1-11 (4f) was again his side’s most prominent threat and after a below-par display in the semi-final, his performance on Sunday will be key to Derry hopes.
Now Derry face the ultimate test against an Antrim side that has yet to play a game in the Ulster Championship. They are something of an unknown quantity but will definitely pose a huge threat to Derry.
All Derry fans will wish the Derry players and management the very best of luck on Sunday.