Minor manager Damian McErlain believes the Owenbeg Centre of Excellence is helping foster a real club ethos within the Derry county set-up.
The Magherafelt man takes his young Derry side to Clones for the third time in 12 months this weekend to face Armagh in the Ulster Minor Championship semi-final and believes the Dungiven training venue has played its part in the county’s renaissance at underage level.
You want to give the 2, 3 or four that might come out of the minor team the appetite to want to play for Derry on the biggest stage possible and to give them as much experience of that as we can.Derry Minor manager, Damian McErlain
“We bump into the seniors at least once a week and have regular chats with Damian Barton and the senior management team,” said McErlain. “The two changing rooms are side by side for the seniors and minors. Owenbeg is a magic spot in terms of a facility.
“Some nights you have senior, Under 21, minors and the hurlers all training at the same time. Everybody has somewhere to train but everyone is interacting and it does create a more ‘club’ atmosphere in that sense.
“It is a superb environment. As a training base, Owenbeg certainly lends itself to making playing county football a more desirable thing.”
“That’s the whole thing about minor football. You want to give the 2, 3 or four that might come out of the minor team the appetite to want to play for Derry on the biggest stage possible and to give them as much experience of that as we can.”
McErlain said he was full of admiration for the dedication of his players, many of whom have been juggling their county commitments with the pressure of school exams.
“It is a serious commitment for these young fellas,” agreed the Derry manager. “This week is the last big exam week so you would be hoping that they could be refreshed to get that weight off their shoulders and focus on the football.
“We have tried to juggle it as best as possible, this past two weeks in particular. We have only had them out one school night and then a Friday night which allows them to come to training without having to worry about an exam in the morning. You have to be understanding to those pressures.
“The boys have juggled it very well in terms of certain players maybe not being able to be there on occasion because of exams.”