WHAT does Christmas mean for you? For GAA Heads, it means one thing, and one thing only – the Ulster Minor tournament at St Paul’s.
Tyrone representatives Cappagh are set to take on Kilcoo in today’s quarter-final at the Shaw’s Road venue in west Belfast, and it’s a week later than billed after the Magpies senior counterparts did the business in the Ulster Senior Championship final against Naomh Conaill.
Cappagh qualified for the tournament by virtue of their first Grade One Minor Championship triumph in almost four decades in Tyrone, and their manager Gabhan Sludden – a player with Killyclogher – says he’s delighted his youthful charges are getting their moment in the spotlight.
“It’s their time to shine, they’re the ones who are getting the publicity at the moment. Everyone in the club is behind them and cheering them on. They got their big night out after their win in the final. The club and committee is backing us and giving us everything we need.”
This is the second year of Sludden’s term, and he says there was no major despondency after they lost last year’s final to a Darragh Canavan-inspired Errigal Ciaran as most of their players were still in their first year of minor football.
They made amends with this year’s victory over Eglish – a win which was tinged with emotion following the recent death of club stalwart Tommy Nugent – and already some of these players are doing their bit for the Killyclogher senior team.
“We knew there was a good team coming through so the management team saw it as a two-year plan. We felt we left it behind us against Errigal as we were a point up heading into the last few minutes before Darragh turned on the style and scored two points.
“We’d ten starters from that year still eligible – 11 if you include Oisin McCann who was injured – so I think the experience has stood to us.
“Oran Grimes has played in nets for the seniors all season, and Mark Hayes, Oisin and John Rafferty played the last few league games.
“There’s no shortage of talent, there’s 68 players in the group and they’re all capable of playing senior fotball, it’s just a matter of bringing them through.”
Kilcoo, meanwhile, are managed by Conor Laverty, who’s developing quite the name for himself as an up and coming coach (and yeah, he also captained the Magpies to their historic Ulster final triumph on Sunday).
Sludden says Cappagh have done as much homework as possible on their opponents.
“It’ll be good to test ourselves against one of the best teams in Ulster. We play these sort of teams in friendlies at the start of the year but obviously don’t get the full experience. It’ll be great to see what level we’re really at, and we know we’ll be up against a really strong Kilcoo team.
“We like to think we’ve done a good bit of work on them, we’re going out to win it but we’re not naive either. We’re treating it as another important championship match and hopefully it’ll be enough on the day. We haven’t played against them but they’ve three or four players who’ve been playing for their seniors so we know they’ll be a big test for us.”