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'Our manager put up a picture of a Derry player and a Kilkenny player and asked us what the difference was...'

Derry U21 hurling skipper Ciaran Steele says it’s all about the mindset as they take on the Cats.

DERRY TAKE ON Kilkenny in Saturday’s All-Ireland U21 hurling semi-final, and the Oak Leafers are well aware the challenge is as much mental as it is physical.

Derry boss Collie McGurk, who doubles up as manager of the seniors and U21s, used a simple exercise in recent days to help his team prepare for the test.

Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling U-21 All-Ireland Semi-Final Media Day Derry captain Ciaran Steele was speaking at the Bord Gáis Energy GAA Hurling U-21 All-Ireland Semi-Final Media Day. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

“Our manager put up a picture the other day of a Derry player and a Kilkenny player and he asked us what the difference was,” says captain Ciaran Steele. “There were a few answers that weren’t correct, and in the end he said the only difference was the jersey.

“And that is the only difference if you look at it that way. We’re all hurlers, we’re all human. Down there in Kilkenny they’re born with a hurl in their hand more or less, in Derry we have to work a bit harder to get up to their level.

“There’s definitely a belief in the camp that we can match them if we bring the physical edge and pressure and produce the goods in front of goal.

“In championship anything can happen on the day too. It’s not even the fear factor, everyone is relishing the challenge of, you know, playing against the best hurling team of the past 15 years or so.

“Our team is just buzzing to get at them, you know.”

Colm McGurk Derry manager Collie McGurk. Source: Presseye/Lorcan Doherty/INPHO

Physicality is a topic that comes up on a couple of occasions during the conversation. It’s an area where Derry will really look to take the game to the Cats.

“The physical edge in Derry hurling is key to Derry winning games,” explains the centre-back.

“A lot of the players would play football and that would stand to them as far as physicality is concerned. The more physical you are the more pressure is put on the opposing team.

“That’s standing well to us and he (McGurk) is emphasising the fact we have to be physical in games. Having said that, there’s a lot of good hurling in Derry.”

Much of that focus on bringing a physical edge is down to the manager. A former dual star, McGurk is a legend around Derry, having been part of the county’s All-Ireland football success in 1993.

He holds 16 senior county medals between hurling (12) and football (4), and also won an All-Ireland club football title with Lavey.

Derry team 1993 The Derry team that lifted Sam Maguire back in 1993. Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

He was appointed to his current role last November, and has already led the county to their first Ulster U21 hurling crown in nine years and the Nicky Rackard Cup so far in 2017.

“He’s hugely important to the development of hurling in the county,” continues Steele.

“You have to give him a lot of respect for getting everybody out, putting it in everybody’s heads that we can compete with the teams down south. He plays a massive role in the success we’ve had this year.”

Under McGurk’s leadership, Derry hurling finds itself in a promising place. His uncompromising approach to management isn’t too dissimilar to his playing days.

“I heard he was a bit of a hatchet man!” laughs Steele.

“There’s stories around Dungiven that boys might have been afraid of marking him. Once we were shown a video of him in a schools’ final.

“He was centre-back, the ball fell to his feet twice and he swung twice, missed it. Swung back the way towards his own goal just to hit it, missed it again.

“He was swinging everywhere. I think he only got a yellow card for it, there was boys around him getting clips and everything.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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