Damian McErlain admitted the earlier than expected McKenna Cup start date caught Derry out in terms of preparation but he believes it might also help the Oak Leafers avoid any early season fixture congestion.
The traditional season curtain raiser often sees counties playing three times in nine days, or four in 12, a schedule McErlain described as “crazy”. Tyrone’s superior fitness in the third quarter on Thursday proved the telling factor in their 0-20 to 0-11 victory but the Derry manager was not overly concerned about the result.
“The game was thrown on top of us a bit,” admitted McErlain, “I suppose the Ulster Council have to do what they have to do and Tyrone are going on holidays but that was difficult for us. I’m not complaining. We play the games when we are asked to but when pre-season is as fine tuned as it is, and well planned out as it is - your rehab men are geared up for a certain date and the physios think they have a certain amount of time - that two weeks can really catch you on the hop.
“We have a panel of 29. Seven are away with universities, that’s 22. Eight are in rehab. Do the maths.
“It was a challenge but we were able to call on the Under 20s and some of them came in and did well. That game was a good experience for them. It’s good to get in amongst the likes of Tyrone and see how they are operating
“There is no doubt that we tired in the third quarter but Tyrone were able to bring experienced players off the bench. Our bench was a lot of younger with boys who maybe hadn’t played for Derry before, given those numbers we talked about, but there is a positive to that as well.
“We are here to build for the league. It’s great to play Tyrone first because you’re setting the bar high. You are playing against a top quality side and learn loads very quickly rather than learning it at the end of the McKenna Cup when you might have been thinking you were going well.
“We have learned it early. We felt there were quite a few positives. We were competitive for 40-45 minutes and tired legs probably kicked in at that stage as well as the fact Tyrone might be that step ahead of us conditioning wise.”
The Derry manager said he was hoping to have the majority of his panel back and available for the start of the league on January 27th against Antrim.
“Ninety-five per cent of boys will be back and available to us but who that is, is another question because you still have the seven boys are ineligible for this competition because they are with their university.
“We should have another one or two men back for January 6th and 9th, those games are on top of each other a bit, but it really is the league before you have absolutely everyone out. Maybe one or two will get it tight to be out for that league start.”