Derry minor manager Boyle proud of players after they set up Tyrone semi-final

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Derry minor manager Martin Boyle said he was full of pride at how his young players had navigated months of uncertainty and coped with the burden of the favourites tag following their Ulster Minior Championship victory over Armagh on Sunday.

Dan Higgins’ second half goal proved the game’s critical score as Derry fought back from a one point half-time deficit to set up a semi-final meeting with Tyrone on January 2nd. It was far from free flowing but in difficult, blustery conditions, and after the ‘will they, won’t they’ nature of the championship itself, Boyle said he had nothing but praise for his players.

“In particular this year, you’ve no form, you have no footage of your opposition, so you are feeling your way into a game,” revealed the Ballinascreen native. “You are setting up match-ups and then they are changed. The Armagh team that was named, there was five or six who didn’t think would be starting. I’m not saying it threw us, you just have to have the courage of your conviction of what we had planned to do ourselves.

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“In the first-half, we didn’t attack the game as well as we should have. It was something we had talked about all week, that we were going to attack this here, that we weren’t going to play with a sweeper, we were going to rely on the players’ footballing sense to give us protection at times, so it was bit surprising that we did play within ourselves and we did play with a hand-brake on as such in the first-half.

Derry minor manager Martin Boyle at Owenbeg on Sunday.Derry minor manager Martin Boyle at Owenbeg on Sunday.
Derry minor manager Martin Boyle at Owenbeg on Sunday.

“We chatted about that at half-time and I thought we attacked the second half and got the first score and set the tone. When you are out on the field, there is a fair strong breeze blowing down it, to attack the second half the way we did, I was more than happy with that. We will improve, that’s the hope that we will improve.”

Derry had been restricted to only a couple of practise games against the county’s Under 20 trialists in the build-up to their belated Championship opener but even when they found themselves 0-4 to 0-3 at the interval, Boyle said he had full faith his players could manage the situation.

“We played the U20 trialists over the past couple of weekends and came away with good performances and big victories,” he explained, “But we warned the boys about that, because it was pretty false.

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“We were moving well and confident we were moving well in terms of football and the cohesion within the team but Championship-wise, we didn’t know where we were at.

“In winter football, against a physically aggressive Armagh team who put us to the pin of our collar, it was a different challenge and we’re just relieved to come out on the other side of it.

“I wasn’t too bothered at half-time with the scoreline, bearing in mind the breeze. I knew we could run the ball and I knew we could improve. We chatted about not getting players ahead of the ball and not moving their sweepers out of positions. We didn’t get the movement inside and we didn’t kick the ball enough. It is difficult to kick the ball, there is always space on this pitch to kick the ball.

“You can see from the second half, from the delivery from some of the ball men inside, winning frees and the goal. It was an improvement.”

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Captain Matthew Downey was the catalyst for an improved second half and it was the Lavey’s player’s brilliant pass which set up Higgins for the crucial goal.

“Matthew, I don’t expect anything else, what a man, but I am not going to single out one, the whole panel played a massive role pushing each other on. When the ball is in that man’s hands, magic happens and expect the unexpected.

“We have encouraged Dan to go (forward). Paddy O’Kane his midfield partner played the anchoring role really well and it gives Dan that freedom to go and that’s his greatest strength. While the goal was the big score in the game, it gave us a belief and confidence to attack the game further and I thought we played with a lot more control in the ball. I’m not saying comfortable, but we were using the ball better after that.

“I have just told them I am beaming with pride for them. In the white heat of championship, when the pressure is on and you are going into a game where everyone is making you favourites, it is easy to crumble but those boys didn’t crumble. That’s the sign of those men, and I’ll use the term ‘men’.”

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Now Boyle and his panel can look forward to an intriguing date with the ‘old enemy’ and a January 2nd meeting against Tyrone.

“There is no fixture that gets the juices flowing like Derry and Tyrone, it is definitely something to embrace. We will improve ahead of the Tyrone game, that’s the plan, on the front foot and we’ll learn from today.

“They’ll have a good Christmas and by God they’ve earned it. At least they are in a good frame of mind moving forward. It’s good the Tyrone game is two weeks away, it’s coming around quick and we don’t have to wait too long.”