Derry manager hits out at McKenna Cup schedule

Derry manager Damian McErlain. (INPHO/Lorcan Doherty)
Derry manager Damian McErlain. (INPHO/Lorcan Doherty)

Derry manager Damian McErlain admitted it will be a patched up Oak Leaf side that completes the county’s Dr. McKenna Cup, Section C campaign against Ulster University in Owenbeg on Wednesday night.

McErlain’s squad was already stretched prior to Sunday’s bruising encounter with Fermanagh which saw Ryan Bell suffer ligament damage and several other players battled through the pain barrier in energy sapping conditions.

Chrissy McKaigue returns against the Students but other than the Slaughtneil player, McErlain will likely be forced to select from the same small panel for a second game in four days.

McErlain is no fan of the condensed scheduling of a competition which falls right in the middle of most counties heavy pre-season training as they prepare for the beginning of the National League.

“The players are sore after what was a very tough game,” explained the Oak Leaf manager after the 3-09 to 2-08 victory in Brewster Park, “Some boys were cramping and they will have only two days rest before Wednesday. That is the madness of it.

“That was one of the big advantages of playing Tyrone before Christmas, we didn’t have three games (in quick succession). We will have injuries out of this for Wednesday night. Ryan Bell is already out. It is not a fracture and looks like ligaments but one is almost as bad as the other.”

Despite the goalscoring heroics of three-goal Ben McCarron on Sunday, the Derry manager was frustrated at having to rely so heavily on the county’s talented Under 20 squad due to injuries and players absent with universities.

“We were just as young in defence today (as against Tyrone) but the stuff we are working on is definitely coming through,” he added.

“We are only two games into the new season and have only had about four proper training session with the numbers all out. The big frustration today is not having the full panel with us. There are six or seven boys away with universities which is no preparation for the National League.

“People talk about the McKenna Cup preparing the Universities for the Sigerson but it is an absolute penalty in terms of counties preparing for the league.”

McCarron’s headline hogging performance distracted from all round impressive Derry display in which they were never behind but had to dig deep when down to 13 men in the second half.

Steelstown’s young forward was the star of the show but another teen, keeper Odhran Lynch - cousin of former Derry star, Mark - also enhanced his reputation on what was his senior debut.

“Ben had a great display and showed the pace and athleticism he has and of course, he can finish as well.

“He’s a great lad, he just keeps the head done, gets on with working hard and he is going to be some asset to the Under 20s this year.

“Odhran is a big man, a good physical presence and did very well,” added McErlain, “You could see he doesn’t lack confidence in terms of his ability. He is a good footballer and has played outfield for Magherafelt all through his underage career. He did very well. He has a good presence and a good kick-out.

“He has only been with us for a couple of sessions. We had a couple of injuries and have players like Ben McKinless with the university so he stood in and showed he is a real talent.”

Sunday was also Derry’s second competitive experience of the ‘new’ rules with Emmett Bradley becoming Derry’s first resident of the sin-bin but it was the hand-passes that remain the main source of frustration.

“The fist pass is frustrating,” reiterated McErlain, “It mayhave got us off the hook once or twice. I just think it is too much.

“Particularly early on, Fermanagh put so many men back, that becomes a difficulty. How do you retain the ball? It is nearly impossible to retain the ball and I know that’s what the rules are set up to do, create turnovers so teams wouldn’t be able to retain the ball.

“It is just ridiculous if you set the game up so that the team will fail on the attack. From that point of view the hand pass rule just doesn’t work.

“The sin bin has good and bad aspects to it but you cannot really argue with it. There is a practical nature to it. I don’t really have any sort of opinion on it but you need to be careful. We were down to 13 men and that was a stage when it was backs to the wall stuff so what else we got from that game was the character we showed and the spirit.

“Bar one goal chance, - or rather one fist pass that took out three of our men - we looked a lot more solid than our opening game. Against Tyrone, we competed well in the first half, it was 0-9 to 0-7 at half-time, but still, nine scores is too many in any game of football.

“Our aim today was to make sure that wasn’t the case again. Our work rate, our shape and how we approached that end of the game was very pleasing. There’s still plenty to work on but that is our second game and a win at this stage against a Division Two team gives us some really good momentum.