Derry Minors begin Ulster bid with visit of Cavan to Owenbeg

Derry minor football manager Damian McErlain. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2316GS – 51Derry minor football manager Damian McErlain. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2316GS – 51
Derry minor football manager Damian McErlain. Photo: George Sweeney. DER2316GS – 51
​Like the county's senior footballers, Derry minors will be hoping to carry an impressive league campaign into the Ulster Championship which gets underway for Damian McErlain's squad with the visit of Cavan to Owenbeg this Saturday (1pm).

Ten of last year's All Ireland winning squad are back this season and the omens are good after McErlain's team defeated Down in the Minor League final following a new McKenna Cup style league format in 2024 that brought group victories over Tyrone and Antrim as well as a semi-final victory over this weekend's opponents from Breffni Park.

For the championship Derry have been drawn in the four county Group B alongside Cavan, Armagh and Antrim with the group winners in each section proceeding directly to the semi-finals, while second place in each one group plays-off against third in the other to join the top two in the last four.

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It is a format that's not without critics and even though only one county from Section B is eliminated after the group stages, McErlain is targeting a strong start and will take nothing for granted despite having defeated Cavan 1-09 to 0-05 at the end of March.

"We met Cavan in the League semi-final and they were a good side," explained the Pak Leaf boss, "They were physically strong and gave us plenty of bother. They missed frees in that game that they shouldn't have missed with the breeze. Had those found the target they would have made the scoreline much closer.

"We were happy enough to get the win but the league format this year was a bit stop-start compared to previous seasons. It was like the McKenna Cup which meant you had less matches. Like I said we found it a bit stop-start but, no, it was a good enough league campaign.

"You can always do with more matches to get boys looked at and up to speed but we were happy enough with what we got from it."

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McErlain acknowledged that lifting the league title will inevitably see Derry installed as one of the teams to beat in the championship but he said last year's All Ireland success meant most counties were already viewing the Oak Leafers as a prized scalp to take.

"Everybody that has come to play us so far has come with that sense of 'these boys won the All Ireland last year'," he added, "I suppose they know we have a few back from last year but at the same time it is a totally different team, a totally different animal. Half our team from last year was playing for the U20s last night in Monaghan.

"We have a good panel but with minors it's always the same, you never know for certain until they get to experience championship football. The league is the league. You have teams trying men out and looking at different tactics with different team sheets every week. Players are being changed, coming in and out, so you never know how good teams are at this level until they come up against each other.

"Look, we have 10 of last year's squad back which is a good start. It means there's a core, a third of the group, who have that experience already. The league went okay but there are still teams we haven't played yet. We haven't seen Donegal and they’ll be a threat; Tyrone the same, but what I did see across the league is that it’s all fairly evenly matched, probably more so than last year."

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