By Niall Gartland
TYRONE minors are in pole position to finish in top of their group heading into their third and final round robin match against Antrim this Saturday.
Gerard Donnelly’s side can make doubly sure of finishing top of the table with a win, and in doing so secure home advantage in their upcoming quarter-final clash against one of the five teams – Monaghan, Fermanagh, Donegal, Down or Derry – from the other section.
Going unbeaten through the group stages would also benefit the Red Hands in the sense they’d be pitted against a comparatively weaker team in the last eight, so this Saturday’s game is by no means a total dead rubber.
This weekend’s clash against Antrim will be played as the curtain-raiser to the big Ulster Senior Championship semi-final clash between Derry and Monaghan at O’Neill’s Healy Park, so that’s another extra incentive for the young Red Hands to show what they can do in front of a captive audience.
One of their star performers on their last day out was Galbally youngster Darragh Donaghy, whose half-forward play caught the eye in a convincing win over Armagh.
It was an improved performance from their opening day win over Cavan, even though the game was played in treacherous conditions.
In particular, they’ll gain confidence from how they dug deep in the second half after Armagh momentarily nudged themselves in front with a goal.
Donaghy said: “After the goal, it was a bit tight, but we got the scores back and we were able to pull through in the end.
“The hands were freezing, the ball was wet, but it was a good win. When you have good players all over the field, it’s good. We did well to stop Armagh from pushing on after the goal.”
He continued: “It was a bit more convincing than against Cavan. Even though we won against Cavan, we knew we had a lot to improve on, and it was good to show that with that performance (against Armagh).”
Donaghy played on Tyrone’s u-16 team last year and he’s been a strong addition to the minor side.
He knows the Red Hands have performed well at this level in recent seasons and they’re bidding to complete a historic three in-a-row in the Ulster Championship, something never before achieved by Tyrone. That said, they’ve fallen narrowly short at All-Ireland level.
“They got so close two years ago in the final, and then Ulster again last year, so we’re looking to go to the next level,” commented Donaghy.
The Galbally player has tasted success already this year as he played on the St Joseph’s, Donaghmore schools team that won the Ulster and All-Ireland titles at ‘B’ level.
Indeed, the captain of the Tyrone minor team is another star of St Joseph’s recent success, namely Conor Neill.
“When you have friends from school on the team as well, it helps you to mix with the boys.
“Everybody is friends in there, so it’s easy to get on.”
Standing in Tyrone’s way of a perfect group stage record is an Antrim side managed by St Paul’s clubman Laurence Higgins.
The Saffrons got their campaign off to a promising start, claiming a draw against Armagh, but they were well off the pace on their last day out against Cavan.
The final scoreline of 3-20 to 1-6 told the story and their cause wasn’t helped when one of their top performers, Niall Hynes, was unable to play any part due to injury.
To their credit they never gave up the ghost, but unless they up their game dramatically this Saturday, everything points to another Tyrone victory.