Derry Minors take on Tyrone in Championship semi-final at Athletic Grounds

County management is all consuming at the best of times but try managing two county teams at the same time!

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 6:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 24th June 2021, 6:36 pm
Derry Minor manager Martin Boyle must plot a path past Tyrone to reach the Ulster Final.
Derry Minor manager Martin Boyle must plot a path past Tyrone to reach the Ulster Final.

This weekend Martin Boyle leads Derry’s 2020 Minors into a three times delayed Ulster Championship semi-final against Tyrone in the Athletic Grounds on Saturday, just five weeks before his 2021 vintage meet Armagh at Owenbeg in the opening tie of their Ulster Championship on July 28th. It’s a scenario that would have most looking for the 25th hour in a day but Boyle is simply delighted last year’s panel will finally get to finish their championship journey.

“We are getting plenty now,” laughs the Ballinascreen native, “We have the 2021s up at 6.30pm on a Tuesday and Thursday and we go with them until 7.45pm and then the 2020s arrive at 7.30pm so there is a bit of a crossover there. The 2020s get a warm up done but we are leaving one session and straight into another.

“It does be a bit head frying but you just have to be organised though I’m very lucky with regards to the men that are with me and the whole management team, they are brilliant.

"The one thing I would say we are missing a bit, for the 2021s in particular, is that personal touch of being able to go and talk to boys before training, after training. Just things like asking, ‘How’s are getting on?’ The 2021 season is short enough and we don’t have a load of time to get to know the players and they don’t have a lot of time to get to know us. It is difficult that way but it’s a good problem. It’s better than sitting in the house and certainly better than no football.”

This weekend, it’s the 2020s turn in the spotlight. Last December, just five days before Christmas, captain Matthew Downey inspired the young Oak Leafers to a fully deserved 1-07 to 0-8 victory over Armagh in Owenbeg but news filtered through on Christmas Day of an inevitable postponement of the semi-final. For long enough it looked as if the championship may never have been played out and that uncertainty has had its challenges for Boyle and the players.

“Yes, just the chemistry of playing together has been a challenge and we are very much in the unknown in that sense,” adds Boyle, “There is no form line to go off so you’re hoping things will be alright. With the bits of football we’ve played at training, the odd challenge match, you don’t really know where you are at. You are trying to play club teams but it’s not at the same intensity that you want. That said, everyone is in the same boat as regards that. We will just have to see.

“We only have that game at Christmas to go off as regards Tyrone but how relevant is that game at this stage. I’m sure Tyrone are in the same boat as regards looking at us against Armagh. You just don’t know where boys are at in terms of form, in terms of fitness.

“We have injuries and I’m sure Tyrone have a niggle or two. Yo try and prepare as best as possible but you have to trust the lads and hope they will get up to the pitch of the game and perform how they can.

“It is almost old school but in many ways it’s good to keep that focus on ourselves, to go out and play while trying to recognise different situations in a game where the boys can react and hopefully do the right thing.

“I have a lot of trust in these boys. They are very mature. They are now ‘old school’ minors in the sense that they’re Under 18 and you see a big difference in terms of size, and maturity from even last year; maturity in terms of being a person and maturity in terms of football as well which is good.”

The delay has meant Boyle must plan without full-back Sean Deehan who has injured his cruciate and wing-back Raymond Dillon who picked up a knee injury training with Slaughtneil while Saturday will come too soon for Calum Downey. The delay has a silver lining for one player though with Steelstown’s Donncha fit again having overcome his own cruciate injury picked up in February 2020.

“Losing some of those lads is a big blow but Donnacha being back is a major boost and he’s going really well. It’s strange the way it has worked out, he is playing in a game he thought had long since passed him by. He can’t believe his luck and is saying he’s in bonus territory but he deserves it because he is a great lad and has worked very hard.

“It’s only right that they have to opportunity to go and compete at this level. If I was on the outside I would probably have thought the competition should have been pulled like many others have asked me but these lads have had them championship cancelled three time so they have been hit harder than any GAA players.

“All the teams left in it, they deserve the opportunity to finish their championship so fair play to the GAA and the Ulster Council for accommodating it.”