SATURDAY’S Philly McGuinness Cup final against Sligo in Mohill, Co Leitrim could be the start of something special for the Tyrone U-20s, and manager Paul Devlin says the players are looking forward to the chance to lift some pre-championship silverware.
This is the culmination of a new league tournament consisting of eight different teams across Ulster, Connacht and Leinster who are honing their preparations for their respective provincial championships.
The tournament is named in honour of former Leitrim footballer Philly McGuinness, who died on 19 April 2010 after an accidental collision in a local club game.
At the time, Mickey Harte was invited down to draw on his experiences of coaching Tyrone teams through the deaths of Paul McGirr in 1997 and, seven years later, of Cormac McAnallen, and it’d be a poignant climax to the tournament if Tyrone were to prevail this weekend.
Returning Tyrone u-20 boss Paul Devlin says: “Sligo are a decent outfit and are doing a fair bit of work at underage level. Their minor team went on a bit of a run in the All-Ireland series a few years ago but were undone by a late goal against Derry.
“It’s all about who adapts best on the day and who’s most up for the game. It’s a final, another competitive game, and it’s given the lads something to look forward to.”
The Ulster U20 Championship has been pushed back this year with the Red Hands set to play a quarter-final clash on June 30 against the winners of preliminary round opponents Antrim and Down.
Hopes are high of a decent championship campaign with the likes of Sean Og McAteer, Mark McKearney and a certain Darragh Canavan playing some brilliant football en route to Sunday’s U20 final. Canavan was initially drafted into Mickey Harte’s senior panel but the sensible decision was made after the Allianz National League to release the teenager into the U20 squad.
Devlin said: “Darragh’s a talented player, just like a lot of the lads, but if he’s not getting game-time with the seniors then it’s perfect for him that he’ll play with the U20s. Knowing Darragh, he wants to play football whether it’s with Errigal Ciaran or Tyrone.”
The manager also admits that it’s been a bit tricky to accommodate everyone with the club season well under way, but he says that it could be a worse state of affairs.
“You have to try to work together. It hasn’t been too bad but a few games were changed to a Friday night and you’re asking a lot of lads to play a league game on a Friday and then a county game the next day.
“There’s lads who didn’t make the minor team and other panels in Tyrone but who have progressed a lot with their clubs. The clubs have done a lot of good work with the lads.”
On that note, Devlin says that there’s a world of difference between the U20 and U17 grades.
“There’s a big, big difference. Very few of the U17s are bang on 17. It’s about getting the balance right and trying to work with the players to see who breaks through.”