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Dungiven's James McNicholl sees U21 grade as a stepping stone

The Derry champions play Latton in the first round

Dungiven draw to face Latton in the Ulster U21 championship in Creggan

Dungiven celebrate their Derry U21 final win over Kilrea. (Pic: Mary K Burke)

Dungiven will face Monaghan champions Latton in the preliminary round of the Ulster U21 football championship at Creggan.

The winners will play Armagh winners Clann Éireann in the quarter-finals.

"I would like to have avoided the preliminary round," admitted joint manager James McNicholl in the aftermath of the draw.

The competition was under pressure to find a new home in the calendar, after it was forced out of its January start date but Creggan have worked tirelessly in the background to find a solution.

Dungiven's opener against Latton is penciled in for late February, a 'couple of weeks' before the quarter-finals which, are fixed for March 8/9. 

THe Derry champions will need to juggle the availability of Richie Mullan, Conor Kelly and Odhrán McKeever who are on the Derry senior hurling panel, with Cahir Higgins also involved in Maghera's MacRory plans, should they advance from to the semi-finals.

The Oakleafers' hurlers are at home to Warwickshire on Saturday, February 22 before a trip to Roscommon the following week.

"It complicates it a bit, though I would like to have avoided the preliminary round anyway, but it is what it is."

After beating Kilrea to land the Derry title, McNicholl can see the benefit of playing football at this time of the year despite a possible clash with the start of the club leagues, if Dungiven go on a run to the Ulster final.

"It used to start in January, around the time you'd be playing in the Ulster league. Now, this runs right into April, which could complicate things a bit for Stephen (O'Neill - Dungiven senior manager).  Though it is important...if you look at past winners - Gaoth Dobhair, who went on to win Ulster (senior).  Lavey and Magherafelt went on to reach the county final, so it is a good stepping stone."

It took a replay to see off Ballinascreen before two Conor Kelly points edged out Kilrea in a keenly contested final.  And after their seniors getting relegated it was the perfect lift.

"Credit to Mick (O'Kane - outgoing senior manager) he put a lot of effort into it and we knew we wouldn't be far away."

Dungiven's last outing in Ulster was in the Paul McGirr U16 tournament.  After defeating Kilrea to land the Derry title, they bowed out in the semi-final to Burren.

The draw was made on Sunday night in Creggan clubrooms.

Preliminary Round - Date TBC
Dungiven v Latton

Quarter-Finals - March 8/9
(1) - Carrickmore v St Eunan's
(2) - Enniskillen v Ramor United
(3) - Prelim winners v Clann Éireann
(4) - St Brigid's v Carryduff

Semi-Finals
1 v 2
3 v 4

- ALSO - Dungiven qualify for county final at second time of asking...

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