Derry minor football manager Martin Boyle says he wants injured captain, Ryan McNicholl in the changing rooms and along the touchline when the Oak Leafers take on Cavan this Saturday for a place in the Ulster Minor Championship final.
The young Glenullin player was forced off injured in the quarter-final victory over Donegal at Owenbeg, ironically just after showcasing his immense talent with one of the goals of the championship, an audacious lob after intercepting the opposition kick-out. Scans later confirmed cruciate ligament damage, ending the Derry captain’s season and setting him on a 12-months recovery path. Boyle admitted the loss of their talisman is major blow but stressed McNicholl still has a part to play within the squad.
“Listen, and most importantly, it’s a massive blow for himself, his family and his club,” explained the Derry manager, “It’s a big blow for a lad who had the opportunity to captain his county in an Ulster semi-final. It’s a tough one but he’s a great lad and will bounce back even stronger.
“Ryan will be with us in the changing room on Saturday. He is always at training, injured or not, which shows the type of character he is. He’ll be along the line in the Athletic Grounds and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There’s no doubt Ryan is a colossal loss, he’s a brilliant player, a real scoring forward and a serious attacking weapon. He consistently produces moments of absolute brilliance like the goal he scored before he got injured against Donegal. The goal he scored in the Athletic Grounds (against Armagh) was another example of his talent. There are not many players capable of those moments of brilliance that Ryan is. He’s an exceptional talent.
“He’s the captain which illustrates how central he has been to the whole thing. It is a massive blow, first of all, to the panel. They are young lads and it can be difficult for young lads to deal with something like that but it also means an opportunity for someone else to show how good they are and that’s the message we have been saying at training. We’re waiting for people to put their hands up and seize this opportunity.
“It’s a squad games these days and everybody will get the opportunity to part their part and show what they can give. We are blessed in that regard because we have a very good panel of players, a deep panel.”
Eoin Scullion, who missed the Donegal game, is also a major doubt and will be assess closer to the weekend before a match which Boyle expects to be Derry toughest to date in the championship.
“We have watched a few Cavan games and then you had their victory over Antrim last week and we played them in the league of course,” he added, “Cavan are quite a typical Cavan team. They are big men, a good footballing side and have a lot of dangerous scoring forwards.
“That’s an obvious concern because they are very, very accurate, unerringly accurate in fact. They will present formidable opponents so we will have to be at our best, one, to make up for the loss of Ryan and two, to match Cavan.
“They are creating those chances in every game I have watched but probably the biggest marker of their ability so far is that they took Tyrone to the last couple of minutes. I know Tyrone were very worried so Cavan are a hell of a good side and we will need to be at our best to deal with them.”
With Derry football currently riding the crest of a wave, Boyle said it’s an extra incentive that his minor team could share the Ulster final stage with the Derry senior panel if they can overcome Cavan in the Athletic Grounds this weekend.
“When you have a ‘back door’ championship as such you expect nothing else but the best four teams in the semi-finals. We are very thankful to be there but now we want to avail of the opportunity because the prize is absolutely huge and the prize is to share the stage with our seniors on Ulster Final day.
“We have a huge hurdle this week but the lads know if they can get the job done they have that to aim for. This week we were at Owenbeg and the seniors were on after us and it can only be good our lads to tap into that positivity and feed off it. Some seniors are becoming household names again and that’s been a while coming in Derry but our lads want to be on the same stage so hopefully that can drive them on as extra motivation.”