Champions face the acid test

Ulster U-20 Football Championship quarter-final
Tyrone v Down
Saturday, Loughmacrory, 1pm

By Michael McMullan

ULSTER champions Down face the ‘acid test’ on Saturday when they take on Tyrone in Loughmacrory as they take the next step of their u-20 title defence.

That’s the view of selector Declan Morgan, part of Conor Laverty’s management team having coached Kilcoo when Paul McIver managed the Down giants.

Down were 2-13 to 0-7 winners over Fermanagh in Friday’s preliminary round. Goals from Oisin Savage and Adam Crimmins set them on their way, but they’ll have to plan without Sean Donegan who was stretchered off with a serious looking knee injury after just seven minutes of play.

“It was good to get a game and nothing beats playing championship football,” Morgan said of their previous outing.

“The boys put in a good performance, but it is going to be a different test this week…away to Tyrone is probably the acid test for any team in Ulster.

“Even the length of Ireland, going away to Tyrone is one of the toughest games you’ll ever come across.”

Looking at the overall picture, Morgan felt the competition mirrors the Ulster Senior Championship with a handful of teams capable of taking the title.

Down have nine of last year’s panel still on board, while Tyrone, Monaghan and Derry have lifted Ulster Minor titles in recent seasons with the latter seeing off Kerry to win the All-Ireland.

“It’s extremely competitive and then you throw in Donegal who won a Development League, beating Tyrone in the final so they are obviously a very good team as well,” said Morgan, who also highlighted how the Red Hands beat them in the Leo Murphy Development League earlier this year.

From last year’s winning team, Down senior midfielder Odhrán Murdock and defensive duo – Paddy McCarthy and Ryan Magill – are still underage.

“He has had a lot on his plate, but he has managed it well,” commented Morgan of Murdock’s input this season.

On top of that, Crimmins, Donegan, Jack Murtagh and Sean Óg McCusker all got a taste of u-20 championship action last season in the county colours.

Former Down star Martin Clarke is part of the management that also includes Conor Gilmore, a teacher in St Colman’s Newry.

Laverty has added former Down skipper Darragh O’Hanlon to the set-up in recent weeks and he has taken to the role seamlessly after being forced to end his own career after a litany of injuries.

“Darragh is really loving it,” Morgan stated. “He getting his teeth stuck into it, which is good because he has a rough time of it.

“There is a good split between the five of us, we’d all be heavily involved in the coaching and Conor would be very hands on as well.”

Morgan spoke of how the management had a ‘staggered approach’ to getting their full panel after having players involved in school and university.

“There was an u-20 league in Down during December which delayed us a bit, but the main thing was the boys were getting football and you get to see boys in action. In the last month, we have had good access to all the lads, the clubs have been very good and given us access to the boys.”

READ MORE – Cavan aiming to improve their underage record. Click here…

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