Ulster Minor Championship preliminary round
Fermanagh v Down
Saturday, Brewster Park, 4.15pm
By Shaun Casey
DOWN take on Fermanagh in the preliminary round of the Ulster Minor Championship this weekend and creating a pathway to the next level is the challenge for Down boss Patrick Cunningham.
“Within Down we definitely have a lot of young talent coming through and it’s just a matter of nurturing that talent through and having a pathway for them to go from u-17s into u-20s.
“The boys in the u-20s last year showed that Down have the players able to reach that (level). We were unfortunate in the semi-final against Roscommon, on another day it could have gone their way to potentially win an All-Ireland.
“The players are definitely there for us; we just need to make sure that pathway continues on.”
It’s a throwback to a forgotten era for the Down and Fermanagh youngsters as their clash is the curtain raiser for the main event in Brewster Park
A lot of debate often surrounds the minor age grade and Cunningham would prefer to see a return to the traditional u-18.
“My memories of it are all u-18. I grew up playing u-18 football and it was always the builder for the senior football and that’s fantastic.
“And to have an opportunity to go out in front of possibly a crowd of 18,000 people at the end of that game would be a fantastic experience for any young fella.
“The more experiences like that, the better it is for them. It’s a fantastic opportunity for them to do it.
“My preference is u-18, that’s what I would like to do, that’s what I’ve always known it to be so my personal preference would be 18.
“In terms of the u-17, what we’ve got here is fantastic and the young fellas love what’s going on. But it’s that next year, two years’ time transition, because you have boys sitting out at 18, 19 and 20 before they get another crack at county, so that’s three years in between.”
Down struggled in the league campaign, winning only once, but Cunningham believes the experience will stand to his players, something they didn’t get last season.
“Last year we came in, we had a number of challenge games and then we had championship and it was straight knock-out. Our boys trained for that three or four-month period and then just got one game.
“We’re able to get more boys competitive football (this year) within the county set up and it’s great for them. From the point of view of actually giving the players game time under a competitive environment, there’s nothing better than doing that.
“You can have challenge games and all too but to have the official referee, the linesman, all that, the players themselves they appreciate it more and I think they get more out of it.
“They grow from it and that experience is going to do them good moving forward into their club football and if they’re fortunate enough to play any county football after that. It was a good experience for them.”