As the business end of the Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football Championship approaches, some of Ulster’s leading coaches at minor level give their verdict on this Saturday’s second semi-final between Derry and Tyrone in Clones (2.45pm),explaining who the key players will be and where they believe Fr. Murray Cup will be won and lost. Adrian McGuckin, BBC pundit and stalwart of Derry football is joined by Down All Ireland medalist and Hogan Cup winning manager Cathal Murray along with Garrett Coyle, three time Championship winner with Cavan Gaels and St. Macartan’s Monaghan senior coach.
There have been some big performances in the Electric Ireland Ulster Championship so far. Who has stood out?
Cathal: Gareth McKinless & Conor McAtamney for me have been exceptional in Derry’s defence, they’re physically strong and read the game very well. Earlier in the year I watched Conor mark Down’s Ryan Johnson, a very talented footballer and he didn’t give him a kick. For the life of me I cannot understand how he didn’t win a BT Colleges All Star this year.
Garrett: I was very impressed with the Tyrone full-forward line against Armagh, Clonoe’s Daniel McNulty is as good a footballer as I’ve seen and along with Martin Bradley and Sean Hackett, they totally turned the game. Monaghan also are no slouches either with Ryan McAnespie, Conor McCarthy and Paudric Keenan catching the eye, albeit against a poor Antrim side.
So this Sunday, Tyrone or Derry and why?
Adrian: Well no disrespect to Cathal or Garrett but this game is the Electric Ireland Ulster final.
Garrett: That’s all the motivation the Monaghan boys need! Although there’s no doubt the winner of this game will be strong favourites for the Fr. Murray Cup. We are looking at two very talented teams in Tyrone and Derry, very different in many ways but at the moment, in my view, Tyrone is the team to beat. They’ve got the better of Derry twice this year and I know for Derry this is team they want to beat. A number of the lads on this Derry side also lost out in this year’s MacRory final and they’ve a lot to prove. I expect them to be very well organised to meet the challenges of this Tryone outfit.
Adrian: There’s no doubt Derry will be very well organised with Paul and Brian McIver who’ll leave nothing to chance. They will be expecting Terence O’Brien, who scored 2- 1 against Donegal, and big Ryan Bell, a senior Championship winner with Ballinderry to cause problems for a Tyrone defence that looked very exposed at times against Armagh. What Derry have is size and physicality, Enda Gormely’s Glen team which won the Ulster Club title this year have a big influence and if they are to overcome Tyrone, vice-captain Ciaran McFaul will need to pulling the strings and feed quality ball inside. My one concern is that Derry lack the mobility of Tyrone who might just have a yard of pace over some of our lads. That said, I still fancy Derry to be in Clones on July 22nd.
Cathal: Tyrone are outstanding at minor level and having won two out of the last four All Ireland minor titles just seem to have a production line of fine footballers. They have a settled squad and the two powerhouses of Omagh CBS & Dungannon were of the MacRory at the quarterfinal stage so this has given the County Minor team, more of a settled look than the likes of Derry. That game against Armagh has shown the quality of Tyrone’s full forward line and the damage they can do with quality ball. Like all Tyrone teams they have an innate ability to hold onto possession and wait for the opportunity to score. Let’s not forget they were 9 or 10 points down to Armagh and still had the will and commitment to come back and win that game which says a lot about their self belief. Derry cannot afford to let the likes of young Bradley score 2-07 as he did against Armagh, for if that happens I think there can only be one outcome.
So, who for the Fr. Murray Cup then?
Cathal: Well as Adrian is telling us it has to be from this second semi-final, I’m going to plump for Tyrone, they’ve been together longer than some of the other teams and have shown great character in turning the game against Armagh on its head.
Garrett: It’s Derry for me, they will have learnt a lot from those two defeats to Tyrone and I just think their physicality will be too much for the other teams.
Managing sport and exams can be difficult? What advice would you give to players who are playing in the Electric Ireland Ulster Championship and studying for exams?
Cathal: There’s no doubt it is very difficult, players are not getting home from County training until 11.30pm in some cases. I’ve heard of lads studying on the bus on the way to training but at the end of the day it’s down to the individuals and how organised they are. It’s important they continue to get good support in school and in the home. I would say most of the guys are well clued in and make the most of their time.
Adrian: I don’t think managers or the GAA consider the pressure young lads are under studying for ‘A’ levels, training maybe three nights a week and perhaps playing for their club as well. Southern counties get the time off during the Leaving Cert but nobody is looking out for the Northern lads, I do think this is something that needs looked at.
Ulster teams have in recent years been very strong, why do you think that is?
Garrett: The level of professionalism is way ahead of the other provinces. The effort expertise and time that is invested at Minor level in Ulster is exceptional. As someone who is originally from Louth and is familiar with the set up in Leinster, the commitment is simply not on the same scale in other regions in terms of coaching preparation. It’s a mindset of people in Ulster and what they put into it they will get back out. Just look at the experience and expertise involved in this year’s Electric Ireland Minor Championship in Ulster with the likes of Pete McGrath and Brian McIver involved.
How can the GAA stop the bleed of our talented young players to the AFL?
Adrian: There is nothing that can be done. What the likes of the AFL, rugby and soccer have is professionalism. We cannot compete with a lad who wants to play sport for a living and we wouldn’t want to stand in his way.
Garrett: Getting paid for something you love doing is a missive lure. But I think the drain is minimal. Chris McKaigue is a far more improved player since he has come back from Australia - let them fly their wings and many realise that the grass isn’t always greener.
Cathal: This is something young lads dream about. I was talking with Caolon Mooney this week and he is about to break into the Collingwood first team. It is a fantastic lifestyle and a great opportunity for someone like him and we should support and respect a lad who wants to, and has the ability to, play sport professionally.