Fox hails special bond on All-Ireland-winning Tyrone U20 team

By Alan Rodgers

A PROGRESSIVE youth policy undertaken by the Loughmacrory club over the past two decades paid yet another rich dividend at the weekend when their three players on the Tyrone u-20 side all starred in the big All-Ireland win over Kerry.

It was yet more memorable success for Eoin McElholm, Ruairi McCullagh and Ronan Fox. Their performances for the Red Hands delighted the sizeable contingent of St Teresa’s club members who made the trip to Portlaoise.

Now the impressive trio are moving out of the youth ranks. One thing for certain is that their progress at senior level will be watched with particular interest, not only locally but also throughout the county.

Sunday’s victory was Tyrone’s first since 2022 and follows on from the titles at this level in 1991 and 1992, 2000 and 2001 and the 2015 team, which provided the basis for the 2021 All-Ireland senior winning side. Hopes will be high that this latest squad will also provide the foundations for a future Sam Maguire Cup success.

For the moment, though, it’s all about Sunday and the reflections on the 1-20 to 1-14 win over the Kingdom, and the key performances throughout the field which really made the difference in what was a dominant display from the Red Hand young players.

Fox is well aware of how important the support of the Loughmacrory club has been to their success. He is also relishing the challenges ahead, but taking time to celebrate Tyrone’s seventh title at u-20/u-21 level and the culmination of an underage journey with Tyrone stretching back more than seven years.

“It’s a brilliant memory for myself, Eoin McElholm and Ruairi McCullagh to have. Ruairi kicked five points and Eoin seven. It’s great to be playing alongside them in this team, and we’ll definitely enjoy this title,” he said.

“We’re going back to the club in the next few days. There’s a close bond between everyone on this Tyrone team and all the players are just delighted. This is the end of a great year for us even though there were a lot of challenges over the past seven months.

“This hasn’t been an easy journey for us. We beat Monaghan by a point in Healy Park, we beat Derry by a point in Celtic Park, and then beat them on penalties in Ulster. Those are fine margins and everything comes down to the last few minutes of any match.

“But I think the work that we have done over the past few months comes to play at this stage. That’s when the games are won, not at half-time or in the first half, but in those final stages when things are tight.”

Like many of the players, Fox endured the disappointment of losing the All-Ireland Minor final to Meath at Croke Park three years ago. That game was also played in perfect conditions, and provided the mental motivation for the players to return to the All-Ireland stage and make no mistake second time around.

Now the big question, of course, centres on how things will develop for these players at senior level. Like any successful team, the hope will be that many of them graduate to the Tyrone senior ranks. That’s definitely an aim for Ruairi McCullagh and his teammates as they reflect on an historic triumph.

“That All-Ireland Minor final wasn’t really mentioned, but it was always in the back of our heads,” he added.

“The day against Meath in Croke Park has hurt us until now. It’s just good to finally get an All-Ireland in the bag for these boys.

“We’ve some team, we’ve stuck together since then and now the same group of boys with a few young ones coming in.

“This is a great reward. The players on this team are going to be bonded together forever now. We’re going to be a close unit and I’d say a lot of the boys will push onto the Tyrone senior panel.

“Hopefully, we’ll be playing beside each other some day in the future. This is my last game at underage level and I’m just lost for words and really over the moon at winning this All-Ireland title.”

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