DERRY GAA: McErlain praises minors' mentality after Sligo victory

Derry minor players celebrate at full-time following their dramatic All Ireland Minor Championship Quarter-final victory over Sligo in Ballybofey.
Derry minor players celebrate at full-time following their dramatic All Ireland Minor Championship Quarter-final victory over Sligo in Ballybofey.

Derry minor manager Damian McErlain praised his side's character after they turned around a five point second half deficit to set up an All Ireland semi-final clash with either Dublin or Clare in Croke Park in three weeks.

Patrick Quigg was Derry's injury time hero with a superb free after Sligo had threatened to cause a major upset with three late points to draw level as the clock hit the 60 minute mark.

A disappointing first half saw the Oak Leafers trail by four at 0-10 to 0-6 after hitting nine wides against a difficult Ballybofey breeze. Richie Mullan's brilliant run and finish for a crucial 47th minute goal looked to have swung the pendulum decisively Derry's way and they led by three with seven minutes left.

However, inspired by the superb Red Og Murphy who finished with 0-11, Sligo hit three successive points to level in an enthralling finale that then saw them struck the upright through Barry Gorman's late effort at a point.

The stage was set for Quigg after Limavady Wolfhounds' Callum Brown - who was superb as a 48th minute substitute - held off three Sligo players before being fouled just inside the 45m line.

Quigg didn't disappoint and Derry celebrated with their manager full of praise for a young side which continues to show impressive maturity.

"Yes, it was some second half and we had to dig it out," explained McErlain, "I think we were five down a minute or so after half-time but we showed great character. Probably nobody realised in the stand the strength of the breeze down at pitch level first half. We were shooting and missing.

"We had something like 20 attacks in the first half which is always a key barometer if you are getting the shots away but we were kicking them wide. That was the difference. They had something like a 90% efficiency on shots in the first half which was the key. At the end of the day, you can tackle and win ball all day but it is all about the scoreboard and kicking the ball over the bar but we are delighted to get through it.

It is not the first time on this championship run that Derry have had to fight back from a deficit and McErlain was delighted with the spirit shown though he warned they will need to step it up for the Croke Park semi-final.

"It is good to see but you also need the quality when you are forced to dig it out in games. This was a real tough game for us. When you are coming off winning an Ulster title with a group of 18-year-olds, it is all about getting them up for that next game and getting them through it.

"We got plenty of food for thought today and we now have a massive challenge ahead against either Dublin or Clare. It's a big occasion for the lads so it will be heads down for the next three weeks to prepare for that because we know today's performance wouldn't deliver in the semi-final but in fairness, the depth and quality we have in this squad came through again

"That (winning score) was probably the best bit of composure we showed because the players were absolutely out on their feet at that stage but they stuck to the task.

"We kept possession which was key. We kicked it a bit at times when we shouldn't have considering they had so many men back - people give Ulster sides all the stick about defensive football but we were playing against a blanket today and we are the Ulster side. That was something we knew coming in but something we had to battle against.

"Sligo were well organised and a big physical side. Fair play to them. Red Og Murphy is a good player but we knew that coming into the game. We put Conor McCluskey on him second half and Conor generally doesn't let too many away but Red Og still got a score on him.

"We had full respect for him coming into the game. Sligo are a good side; a really good side and would have been disappointed with their Connacht final display but they really got themselves organised for this game."

The Derry team now have three weeks to prepare for the trip to headquarters for a game which will be staged before one of the senior semi-finals.

"Yes (it is a challenge) and we will have to cope with that but at the end of the day if your ambition is to win the whole thing you have to forget about the environment. It is a factor but if your mind is totally right and focused on the opposition then your surrounding become secondary after the ball in thrown in," he added.