Monaghan u-20s chasing All-Ireland honours

By Michael McMullan

IT’S a busy time for Monaghan u-20 hurling manager Patrick Hannon.

On Saturday he’ll be in Kingspan Breffni as the county take on Leitrim with the aim of winning the All-Ireland C title.

Last weekend, he oversaw the u-17s double scores win over Longford to book a Celtic Challenge final berth.

Getting to the u-20 final is a welcome bonus bearing in mind it’s the first time the county have fielded a hurling team at this grade in some 10 years since they were playing at the u-21 grade.

Having been involved in younger squads, Hannon is aware of the growth of the game from an u-15 group who picked up silver at a national blitz last year.

There were thoughts of entering an u-20 team last season but, on second thoughts, it would’ve been a year too early.

“We said we’d wait until we took out of u-17, and then we’d go looking at it,” Hannon said.

“a quarter of the team are sitting the Leaving Cert this year,” he said of a group they feel will blossom in the coming years.”

“There were some tough, tough days on the sideline,” he said of their Ulster League. “We’re a young team, and we’re going up against the Armaghs, Tyrones and Donegal who would’ve fielded an u-20 team for the last couple of years.”

With the current u-17 group feeding into next year’s group, there is a long-term plan of taking players into the senior ranks.

“A couple of boxes have to be ticked to get them through,” he pointed out. “We’re working on strength and conditioning more than we did over the last couple years.

“Our minors are getting it, our u-20s are getting it. Even the development squads now are beginning to do their pieces.

“Senior hurling is the end goal so I’m just getting them prepared for it, and they’re coming into the senior team to make it competitive rather than coming in and the standard is nearly alien to them.”

Hannon had noticed players dropping off after minor and, at times, not even pushing on to play club hurling. The u-20 bridging gap gives them a chance to make the step.

“We’re out since January. They have been getting six months’ training with us and it is helping them kind of bridge that gap between minor to even senior level club.”

After wins over Longford and Cavan, Monaghan take on Leitrim this weekend and Hannon is fully aware of their “eight or nine” players doubling up with their senior team.

“We’ve probably exceeded our expectations a small bit.

“Myself and Tony O’Hagan are in with them and we looked at as a three-year project.

“To get to the final in the first year is massive for the boys’ confidence. We have the bulk of them again next year. We struggled in the Ulster League stages and you don’t like to be saying they (Leitrim) are heavy, heavy favourites but they are just that bit further down the line than us.”

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