Oak Leaf Minors open with Donegal Test

DERRY Minors will be hoping they can go back to the future in Omagh on Sunday evening to end a dismal run of Ulster Championship defeats that stretch back to 2008.

Michael Wilson reports

And if it’s omens they are looking for they are not in short supply. That 2008 victory came against Sunday evening’s opponents, Donegal, who surprised many by accounting for reigning champions Cavan last weekend. Watching that game was the new Derry minor management duo of Paul McIver and his father Brian, neither of whom is a stranger to Donegal football.

But that’s where the good news end. Successive Championship defeats to Monaghan, Armagh and last year’s shock reversal to Fermanagh in Celtic Park have severely dampened expectations around this minor campaign, to the extent that most pundits have Derry travelling as big underdogs.

Those dark predictions are in stark contrast to the Tir Chonaill side who will now be viewed as one of the favourites for the title. However this Derry side has already defeated Stephen Friel’s team in the Minor League this season and also in the Buncrana Cup two years ago. That, coupled with Donegal’s short turnover time between games suggests there is everything to play for.

Oak Leaf manager, Paul McIver conceded his side are the underdogs but is adamant they will be doing everything in their power to ensure a repeat of the 2008 victory in Ballybofey.

“These lads know there is no expectation on them but Donegal will have exhausted themselves on Sunday against Cavan,” explained McIver, “They (Donegal) put in a big effort and have only a week to recover. We are going to Omagh confident and we’ll give Donegal one hell of a battle.”

McIver’s job is not made easy by very restricted preparation time. With most minors playing three games over the course of an early season weekend, McIver’s time with his players has been limited.

“I haven’t been able to do my job really,” said McIver of the problems born out of the packed schedule.

“I was brought in as Derry minor manager but we haven’t had a chance. There was a stage where nearly all those boys were playing three matches in three days every weekend, so when we have been together, most of what we do is rehab.”

Hardly ideal preparation but Donegal are in a similar boat. With the game being brought forward to avoid a clash with the Leaving Cert, not only did Stephen Friel and his team have to conceded home advantage for this weekend, they also had little time to bask in the light of that Cavan victory. Not that the Donegal manager is complaining.

“It is easy to prepare this week,” says Friel, who claimed the earlier minor league defeat will count for nothing.

“It is a bonus week which we hadn’t counted on. All our thoughts were on May 20th (last Sunday) and Cavan. We knew it (the performance) was there, but we had to contend with injuries, exams and different things. As I have consistently said, the Ulster Minor League counts for nothing.

“I was not despondent, even after the Armagh game (The Shield final). Indeed I learned a lot from that game and it made my job easier. I had more clarity regarding the team I would be putting out in the championship.”

Despite the new confidence surrounding Donegal, Friel has warned his players not to take the Oak Leaf youngsters lightly.

“That performance (against Cavan), we have to take cognisance, we have won nothing. Every block, tackle, score on Sunday last is of no benefit whatsoever to us on Sunday next.

“We are playing a formidable Derry team who have excellent coaches in the McIvers. They beat us in the league and in the Buncrana Cup two years ago. We have to produce the same desire, the same fervour as we did on Sunday last if we are to be in with a chance this time,” added Friel, who has no injury concerns ahead of the game.

Derry have not been as lucky with Glen’s Stephen O’Hara and Glenullin’s Neil McNicholl both rated as doubtful for the match which has a 7.00pm throw in on Sunday evening in Omagh.

Derry minor panel: Chris Bradley, Ciaran McCloy, Ryan McDonnell, Conor Carville, Cathal Mulholland, Conor Gallagher, Oisin Hegarty, Ryan Dougan, Ciaran McFaul, Danny Tallon, Stevie O’Hara, Anthony Hargan, Paul Devlin, Gary Doyle, Terence O’Brien, Gareth McKinless, Ryan Bell, Peter Hagan, Emmett McBride, Michael Sweeney, Declan Brown, Peter Cassidy, Conor McAtamney, James Kearney, Jack Barton, Dermot Breen, Paul Burns, Gerald Bradley, Liam McGoldrick, Neil McNicholl, Ryan Moore, Conor Murphy, Daryl Mullan.