Derry manager declared himself content with his side’s performance in the McKenna Cup but stressed they are under no illusions about the “monstrous” amount of work to do ahead of the league opener with Westmeath.
Two wins and a defeat from three games saw Derry finish one point behind Armagh in second place in Section B which means, with no semi-final for the first time in two years, they have two clear weeks to prepare for the league opener.
And McErlain admits they will need every minute as they step up the intensity ahead of that January 28th opener in Celtic Park.
“We needed to get on to the pitch,” explained the Derry manager, “We haven’t trained at all on grass. We have done a couple of sessions on 4G but there is so much we need to look at and work on. We have a monstrous amount to work on to get ourselves ready to win any matches in Division Three, never mind starting to think about promotion or anything.
“The boys know that. It’s a work in progress. We absolutely need to get out on to the pitch and start working through stuff. We now have two clean weeks to do that. Derry have been in the last two McKenna Cup finals and it has been fairly disruptive in terms of league preparations so, as I say, there is no great annoyance here (at not qualifying).
“The focus is on Westmeath. They are going really well and are a good, strong, experienced side who have been in the last two Leinster finals so they are a good side. Again, they are ahead of us in the experience stakes so we have to try our best to get our act together over the next couple of weeks, get our shape right and go from there.”
McErlain faces a tough looking Divison Three which includes Ulster rivals Fermanagh and Sunday’s opposition Armagh and is expecting things to be very tight.
“The players all have loads of work to do, even the ones that were playing a bit last year so we are under no illusions about that.
“It is the McKenna Cup, the League is a different level altogether and the Championship, well, that is the ultimate level.
“There are two seasons here. One starts in two weeks time and then there is the one that starts at the end of May. The first is this league campaign and obviously we are going in without the Slaughtneil men which is a challenge. I don’t think there are too many counties under that sort of pressure, especially not one trying to build a new team.
“That’s just the challenges you have to deal with but again, there were plenty of positives to come out of it in the long run. Boys are getting games and that makes for a stronger squad
“We had eight U20s in the 23 man panel today which is good for them. I wouldn’t have envisioned using any of them this season when it comes to the Championship because they deserve their own grade but Conor McCluskey has played all three games and looked very good. He looks like a senior player already but the intention from us is that they would all play for the Under 20s at this minute.
“We are going to need them in the league to give us that back-up but again, this gives them the taste of it. They get to see the physicality and the level but they are doing the work and they are developing to where that level is. It’s good to get them involved but there’s no problem because these boys are used to the management team and the set-up. Hopefully that is good for them in the long run.”