By Niall Gartland
THE prestigious Ulster Minor Club Tournament at St Paul’s is back after a three-year absence, and Tyrone underage kingpins Donaghmore are relishing the prospect of rubbing shoulders with the top teams across the province.
Donaghmore, who completed the back-to-back league and championship double with victory over Eglish in the Grade One Championship victory on August 31, get their provincial campaign underway against Scotstown this Saturday at 5pm (weather permitting, of course).
St Patrick’s achievements within Tyrone have been exceptional – extraordinary even – but the last time a team from the Red Hand County so much as reached the final at St Paul’s was 13 years ago, when Omagh St Enda’s came up trumps against Kilcoo by a single point.
It’ll be interesting to see how they get on, but Donaghmore joint-manager Daniel Grimes knows they’re not going to get anything easy against a team with the tradition of Scotstown.
“You just have to look at the calibre of club involved to see that it’s going to be a massive step up. Scotstown have experience of playing in Ulster at various levels.
“We won the U16 Championship in 2020 and there was no corresponding Ulster tournament, and then two minors in-a-row, so this should have been our third go at it, but as it is, it’s unchartered territory for us. The lads are accustomed to winning games so hopefully that’ll stand to us but we recognise any mistakes we make will be punished.”
Much has been made of the fact that newly anointed Ulster Senior Champions Glen won four St Paul’s titles on the spin between 2011 and 2014, but it’s difficult to gauge how young players will manage the transition to senior football.
That said, you don’t need to have a detailed knowledge of club youth football in Tyrone to know that Donaghmore have some exceptional players coming through the ranks.
Noah Grimes, Ben Hughes and Conor O’Neill were some of the leading lights on the Tyrone minor team that retained their Ulster Championship on a sunny day in Clones in the early summer, and they had an even bigger cohort on last year’s team. Time will tell how whether Donaghmore are well and truly a coming force, and Grimes, who manages the minors alongside Ronan Herron, says they’re mindful that the leap from youth to Senior football isn’t always straightforward.
“It’s a difficult transition, especially coming out of U-17. A lot of our players have recently done their GCSEs and this weekend could be their last weekend of youth football.
“The transition into adult football is challenging, it’s difficult for young lads to make the step up to simply playing Senior football, let alone being successful at that level.
“There’s a good batch of players there, we’d be hopeful we can bring a lot of them through and if they’re participating and pushing the senior team on in two or three years we’ll be delighted.”
As for why Donaghmore have been so successful in recent years, sterling work has been done at the local primary and secondary school, and the excellent facilities at the club are also a major plus point.
Grimes said: “I think you could track this current group back to when they were able to use the indoor facilities at the club, they were working on their skills from a very young age.
“ It hasn’t been my doing, that’s other really committed people in the club who have spearheaded that. I’ve just come along at the end of the process really.”
The Éire Óg minors are also in action this weekend in the Ulster Minor Shield semi-final. They take on Belnaleck on Sunday, 11am at Ballinascreen.