Mi­nors make his­tory

The Kerryman (North Kerry) - - SPORT - – Michael McMul­lan is the sports Ed­i­tor of the

their semi-fi­nal. Derry went in as un­der­dogs and bat­tled their way to a fa­mous vic­tory.

They’ve done it once, they can do it again and there’s noth­ing pe­jo­ra­tive about say­ing they bat­tled to that win. Derry are an ex­tremely well-drilled, well-pre­pared side who work re­ally hard for ev­ery­thing they get, ev­ery ball, ev­ery break. Kerry will know they’ve been in a real game.

Damian McEr­lain has done a re­ally fine job with the Oak Leaf county. They’re all the things we’ve al­ready said and more. Derry, no more than Kerry, have a lot of se­ri­ously tal­ented foot­ballers at their dis­posal.

Most im­por­tantly of all they’ve got a se­ri­ously strong spine to their side. Full-back Conor McCluskey, cen­tre-back Pádraig McGro­gan, mid­fielder Oisín McWil­liams and full-for­ward Lor­can McWil­liams (Oisín’s twin brother) are all bril­liant foot­ballers.

McCluskey will prob­a­bly be given the task of mark­ing Clif­ford (with a sweeper likely to drop in front of both) in what could prove to be one of the game’s defin­ing bat­tles, while down the other end McWil­liams has the abil­ity to cause all sorts of bother for Kerry’s full-back line.

Derry will pro­vide Barry Ma­hony and Diar­muid O’Con­nor with by far their sternest test to date and as their semi-fi­nal with Dublin proved, Derry are will­ing to break it if nec­es­sary in the knowl­edge that with ground hogs like Con­leth McShane in the vicin­ity they’ll win more than their fair share.

The thing is though one shouldn’t un­der­es­ti­mate the grit of this Kerry mi­nor squad. They’ve been de­scribed to us as ‘hard as nails’ and given that Peter Keane is the man over them it should come as no sur­prise.

Both teams have play­ers to call off the bench – Cal­lum Brown, De­clan Cas­sidy and John Paul Devlin are all po­ten­tial im­pact play­ers for Derry – but when it comes down to it, it For the first time since 2007, Derry will have a team in the Septem­ber show-piece when the mi­nor foot­ballers take on Kerry this Sun­day.

In 2014 Kerry won their first Tom Markham Cup in 20 years, re­plac­ing the bar­ren spell with a 23 game un­beaten run. The pro­duc­tion line wasn’t fin­ished. On the back of Ho­gan Cup suc­cess, mi­nor dom­i­nance un­der Jack O’Con­nor and now Peter Keane – Kerry are the envy of the land.

Derry’s last tri­umph was fif­teen years ago un­der the lead­er­ship of Chris Brown. Ten years ago Niall Con­way’s side came through the back door af­ter be­ing beaten by Tyrone in the Ul­ster Fi­nal, a game shad­owed by the Red Hands’ con­tro­ver­sial first-half point. Cor­mac Arkin­son’s shot sailed wide, but was given as a point.

The Oak Leaf young­sters re­grouped to beat Cork in the All- Ire­land quar­ter­fi­nal and Laois ( af­ter a re­play) to reach the fi­nal. Perched by Gavin McGeehan’s early goal Derry led the de­cider un­til the ul­ti­mate sucker punch – a goal from Tribes­men cor­ner-for­ward Damian Red­ding­ton.

McGeehan is back on the ti­tle trail as a mem­ber of Damian McEr­lain’s man­age­ment team. Kil­lian Con­lan, num­ber two to Con­way ten years ago, is again help­ing di­rect op­er­a­tions.

The other link is Bal­li­nascreen’s Martin Bradley – his brother John Fran­cis was cen­tre-back on the team.

In the in­terim, Derry mi­nors en­tered a foot­balling wilder­ness – win­ning only two cham­pi­onship games un­til McEr­lain ar­rived on the scene in 2014.

In 2008, Derry beat Done­gal in the first round be­fore a Kieran Hughes in­spired Mon­aghan dumped Derry out. In 2012 Derry, un­der the man­age­ment of Paul McIver, beat Done­gal be­fore a tame exit at the hands of Tyrone.

How times have changed. Af­ter three years of dom­i­nance in UIster and two knock backs by Kerry, Derry needed to lift could be that if Kerry can live with Derry, their ex­tra lit­tle bit of class will see them over the line.

And it’s not just David Clif­ford who the King­dom can call upon. There’s Donal O’Sul­li­van, Brian Friel, Don­n­chadh O’Sul­li­van and Fi­achra Clif­ford. We’ve seen them all do spe­cial things at var­i­ous times this year.

Clif­ford could be the win­ning of the game for Kerry even if he doesn’t shoot the lights. By ty­ing up a cou­ple of Derry de­fend­ers he might well cre­ate the space for either or both O’Sul­li­van to cut loose. What’s more it wouldn’t bother Clif­ford in the slight­est if that’s what he had to do. He’s shown him­self more than once to be a more than able team player.

That said it wouldn’t sur­prise any of us if the Fossa man was to kick the win­ning score would it?

Kerry

Derry went in as un­der­dogs and bat­tled their way to a fa­mous vic­tory. They’ve done it once, they can do it again

Ver­dict:

them­selves to the next level. All through the sea­son McEr­lain hailed the class of 2017 as a spe­cial group. The boss re­it­er­ated their ma­tu­rity and an am­bi­tion – al­most com­ing from within.

Septem­ber was in the thoughts from the out­set, but only tucked at the back of the mem­ory bank.

Filed away for the time when the Oak­leafers would deem them­selves wor­thy of mix­ing with the car­tel of Dublin, Galway and Kerry.

The first steps of the cham­pi­onship cru­sade would build the mo­men­tum, but the meet­ing with Dublin was the cross­roads. It was time to make the next step.

With Lor­can McWil­liams back at full­for­ward, Derry’s team was trans­formed. The Swa­tragh man scored 0-6, but his con­tri­bu­tion was so much more. The abil­ity to make space, the un­pre­dictabil­ity of turn­ing onto either foot, topped off with a de­sire to hunt down the Dublin de­fence. The rest fol­lowed.

Con­leth McShane’s abil­ity un­der the break­ing ball flum­moxed Dublin’s kick-outs, al­low­ing Derry to hit the ground run­ning. Paddy Quigg and McWil­liams tied the Dubs in knots early on.

The hall­mark of Derry’s run has been dif­fer­ent stars on dif­fer­ent days. In the Croke Park caul­dron it was Sean McKeever, Conor McCluskey and Oran McGill put­ting in a dis­play of de­fend­ing in the mould of the Derry teams of the 1990s, when McKeever’s un­cles Em­mett and Kieran played on, along­side McGill’s fa­ther Gary.

Ger­ard O’Kane, in 2002, was the last Derry man to lift the Tom Markham Cup. Gavin McGeehan’s 2007 crop came ag­o­nis­ingly close but the re­cent trend has lifted the Oak Leaf county out of the wilder­ness.

A chink of light as Damian McEr­lain takes the reigns of the se­nior team.

Derry Post

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