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Damian McErlain: Mastermind Of Derry's Minor Juggernaut Chasing Another All-Ireland Final

Damian McErlain: Mastermind Of Derry's Minor Juggernaut Chasing Another All-Ireland Final
Shaun Casey
By Shaun Casey Updated
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It’s ten years since Damian McErlain first guided a group of hopeful Derry youngsters into the latter stages of the Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Championship and a decade on, he’s still producing the goods from the sideline.

The Magherafelt clubman can take a huge amount of credit for the success that the Oak Leaf County have tasted in recent times, at both underage and senior level, with Ulster and All-Ireland titles now expected rather than dreamt of.

Back in 2015, McErlain helped Derry end a 13-year wait for an Ulster Minor title when a certain Shane McGuigan kicked 0-5 to help his side see off Cavan by three-points and kickstart a series of successful seasons at underage level.

Kerry ended their summer back then, at the semi-final stage, and this weekend, with McErlain back in the bainisteoir bib, the Kingdom once again stand between Derry and an All-Ireland final date.

SEE ALSO: 7 GAA Minors With A Father Who Also Played Intercounty Football Or Hurling

The landscape has changed quite dramatically in the intervening decade. While Derry put up a solid fight against Jack O’Connor’s men in 2015, they are the hunted rather than the hunters this time around.

Derry are the reigning All-Ireland champions. They reached four of the last five Ulster finals, winning three, including back-to-back titles this year. McErlain’s future stars haven’t lost a game since the league final last season.

26 May 2024;The Derry manager Damian McErlain celebrate after winning the Electric Ireland Ulster GAA Football Minor Championship final match between Armagh and Derry at O'Neill's Healy Park in Omagh, Tyrone. Photo by Philip Fitzpatrick/Sportsfile

Underage glory

In the last ten years, Derry have captured five provincial titles and two All-Ireland crowns at minor level. They’ve only won one u20 Ulster title but have reached five finals and picked up back-to-back Anglo Celts at senior level and are the current Division One champions.

Almost all of that glory can be attributed to McErlain getting the wheels in motion ten years ago and although the senior job didn’t go to plan when he held the reins, he’s certainly been a major driving force for the recent success at senior level.


During his first stint as minor boss, McErlain led Derry to three Ulster Championship finals, winning in 2015 and 2017, with Donegal upsetting the trend in 2016, and they also made it to the 2017 All-Ireland final.

That was of course the famous David Clifford final when the boy wonder from Fossa rattled off an unbelievable personally tally of 4-4 as the Kingdom ran out convincing 24-point winners, with the final score reading 6-17 to 1-8.

17 September 2017; David Clifford of Kerry in action against Conor McCluskey of Derry during the Electric Ireland GAA Football All-Ireland Minor Championship Final match between Kerry and Derry at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

During those three prosperous years, many household names produced the goods at minor level. The aforementioned McGuigan, Conor McCluskey, Padraig McGrogan, Conor Doherty and Conor Glass all served their time under McErlain.

Senior step up

McErlain made the decision to step up to senior level after the 2017 All-Ireland final and unfortunately for the Oak Leaf County, the underage success experienced during his tenure didn’t translate to senior football quite as quickly as some might have thought.


Derry sunk to Division Four under McErlain’s watch in 2018 and although he guided them out of the basement division the following year, capturing the league title along the way, McErlain decided to step away after the 2019 season.

While it did take that wee while longer for that winning mentality to translate to senior football, the minors were soldiering on under Marty Boyle and collected a fifth ever All-Ireland Minor title in 2020, their first since 2002.

A team involving the likes of Eoin McEvoy, Lachlann Murray and Andrew Gilmore, clinched a one-point win over their old adversaries from the Kingdom thanks to a late penalty from Matthew Downey, another player that has tasted provincial success at senior level.


When Boyle stepped aside in 2022, McErlain returned to the hotseat and has taken Derry to new heights once again. Derry have never won back-to-back All-Ireland Minor titles, even fact they’ve never even got back to a final the year after winning one.

That’s the challenge ahead of McErlain and his band of youngsters this weekend and of course, it fits almost poetically that Kerry, the team with the most All-Ireland titles at this age grade, stand in their way of history.

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