Derry manager Damian McErlain has promised there will be no let up from his players despite securing promotion to Division Three with two league games to spare.
The Oak Leafers’ 0-13 to 1-05 victory over Limerick on Saturday rubber-stamped a return to the third tier but with a league final against Leitrim and, more importantly, the Ulster Championship clash with Tyrone on the horizon, McErlain says it’s important to keep momentum going.
“Promotion was the primary objective when we got together before Christmas and we are pleased we have got out of Division Four with the fives wins and a couple of games to spare,” explained the Derry manager.
“You still want good performances in the next two games and then with the final being the last weekend in March, it takes us a week closer to the Championship and we are out very early in the Championship so that’s a good thing.
“You have the club month in April which presents its own challenges in terms of keeping lads injury free and trying to prepare a side for the Ulster Championship but competitive games are a bonus to try and get ourselves up to speed.
“There is a relief to it (promotion), there is no doubt about that, especially when you win the fives games. It gives us a bit of space to focus on what we can improve because you are not panicking about what points you need so, yes, it is a positive to get it done so soon and the boys deserve all the credit for doing it.”
Derry still have Leitrim and Wexford to play before that March 30th date against Terry Hylands team and McErlain admitted those games are a chance for players to stake a claim ahead of the final.
“We have men in our panel who need football,” he added, “You have men carrying niggles who you might decide to allow to recover for an extra week or so. It’s still only a day or so since we got promoted and we haven’t really thought about it but, as I say, we have men here who need football and want the chance to prove themselves and show they can offer us something going into the final.”
Looking back over the campaign, McErlain admitted Padraig Cassidy’s injury time winner against Antrim on the opening day had proved a critical result.
“In any league, the first game gives you real momentum if you can get over it with a win and we did that day though Antrim would have been frustrated with themselves that they didn’t get something from that game.
“We were lucky enough to get the score at the end to win and set the ball rolling.
“Every match has been tough and all the teams have had their challenges. They have all been well organised and well set up, all quite defensive but I don’t know if that is only against us. They were a real challenge to break down and we had to dig deep to overcome that.”
Defence has been an area of focus for the Oak Leaf management team this season with his side vastly improved record a source of satisfaction for McErlain.
“If you look back to last year and our first game we were two goals down to no score down after about two minutes against Westmeath in Division Three and that probably tells you something about where we were defensively.
“We had those frailties throughout 2018 so, yes, we’ve worked really hard on that and the importance of keeping those scores out is critical of course.
“We found we were quite capable of competing - in the Championship - with even the Super Eight sides. “We were still able to score freely against them but you have to keep the scores out at the other end to have any chance of winning against those sides. That’s something we have worked hard on indeed.
“Consistency is it in a nutshell. I suppose at this stage of the season we have won seven games and it is only early March so that is the level of consistency we are getting to and we want to keep it going in the next two games.
“Regardless of what 15 we put out, we will still be very keen to keep our run going. Both games are at home which is a big thing in the league.
“Going away and winning games away, which has been another encouraging things about this season, is tough. As I say, the next two games are at home and we will be looking to kick on and develop our own game because we still have a power of work to do to get to where we want to be.”