Down hoping for successful first defence of their u-20 title

Ulster u-20 Championship preliminary round

Down v Fermanagh

Friday, Páirc Esler, 8pm

By Alan Rodgers

A DOWN u-20 side still containing nine members of the team which so impressively won last year’s provincial title will be aiming to give the county a timely lift against Fermanagh in the preliminary round tomorrow (Friday) night.

Success in the competition in 2021 provided the Mourne side with what has become a relatively rare triumph. Now, though, the relegation of the seniors means that they could certainly do with another timely boost.

Down won the title thanks to an impressive win over Monaghan, before losing to the eventual champions, Offaly, in the All-Ireland semi-final.

But Tullylish man Declan Morgan, a coach in Conor Laverty’s management team said that they will be fully focused on the task at hand at Páirc Esler. Both counties have positives to look towards, although the Down coach is under no illusions about the task facing them.

“Like all teams, it’s about winning this first game. It’s a very quick turnaround from last year’s championship which only concluded in July and August and we were back in training again at the beginning of December,” he said.

“There hasn’t been much time to rest on the laurels of 2021 and it has been about trying to get the players up to speed. The Development League has been very beneficial this year for getting a look at players.

“We got a really good game against Tyrone and we’re excited to be the first team into action on Friday night. Hopefully the lads can do the business.

“Those were very competitive games, teams were out wanting to win which provided a bit of an edge. Hopefully, they have given us the chance to iron out a few problems and bring about those improvements.”

Underage teams are all about trying to transition from year to year. In addition to the nine from the 2021 winning side, there’s a similar number who will be eligible again in 2023.

For now, though, the task at hand is Fermanagh and a young Down team will be aiming to realise their potential.

“The confidence of having won the title last year is still there. It’s about looking at the next team and their strengths, but the experience from last year means that there are players who know what it takes,” added the Downpatrick-based teacher.

“The county is looking a bit of a lift and hopefully we can provide them with that,” he adds.

“Everyone is disappointed with the way things went in Division Two through nobody’s fault.

“This Fermanagh team is good – they defeated Armagh two years ago at u-17 level so there’s potential within them as well. They won’t have any fear of us and we’ll have to stop the momentum that they bring to this game.

“We played them in the semi-final last year and had a really good tussle with them. I think they will have a lot of players from last year, and the St Michael’s Hogan Cup team of a few years ago as well.

“Newry is a great venue under lights and our players are definitely glad to get out there.”

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