Derry U20s have been told their future careers ‘can’t be’ defined by the age old club versus county debate.
Under the guidance of former Tyrone minor manager Mickey Donnelly, the Oakleaf U20 squad put their Ulster title on the line against Armagh this weekend.
Speaking to the County Derry Post, ahead of Friday night’s clash at Owenbeg (8.00), Donnelly recalled a talk delivered to his squad by former Derry senior manager Damian Cassidy at a workshop last month.
“He made a very important point,” said Donnelly.
“Damian was speaking about coming in on the back of a successive school career or a successful underage career and breaking into the county seniors and seeing what was required.
“The reason why Damian was so relevant was that he did it as a player and from a coaching point of view, so he knew what the player had to do.”
Cassidy also highlighted the strength of Derry club teams in the 1990s when the county was dining at the top table.
Reference was made to Lavey’s All-Ireland in 1991, with Bellaghy getting to the final four years later. As well as Dungiven winning Ulster before Ballinderry’s 2002 Andy Merrigan winning crop came on the scene.
“It hammered home to the lads, this isn’t us against them – club against county. It isn’t and it can’t be,” Donnelly continued.
Cassidy’s All-Ireland winning team-mate Johnny McGurk was among others brought in to address the squad on different occasions.
Last season, Mickey Moran was involved in Donnelly’s back-room team as the ‘eye in the stand’ on match days and had taken coaching sessions with various Derry teams.
With his involvement in Kilcoo this season, the three-time Ulster club winning boss has stepped away from county scene.
DILUTING THE VALUE
The timing of the U20 competition has added to the burden of clubs. In Derry, there is – for a second year – a mid-season break of over two months, as the club leagues make way for county activity.
The gap has caused frustration in clubs across the county with their players robbed of meaningful games during the peak part of the season.
“I think there will be a move next year,” Donnelly pondered, pointing to the need for change at county level.
“They (fixture planners) got caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. They didn’t play it (U20 championship) before the seniors (as curtain raisers) nor did they play it like the old U21s (early in the year).
“I think you have to do one or the other. You can’t be caught in between somewhere, or you are diluting the value of the competition.”
Derry’s U20 players have undergone an extensive strength and conditioning programme over the winter months.
The county in the short term and the club in the long-term will benefit from the work, Donnelly feels, something clubs have been ‘very receptive’ of.
“With highly qualified people working with teams now, from the conditioning side of the thing, I think there is a bit more respect if you like.
“I don’t want to clash with clubs, that’s the bottom line. I have had nothing only the ultimate support from clubs and I have to stress that.
“I had a lot of contact with Paddy (Bradley), the likes of Joe Cass (Cassidy) and Seamus Downey. They recognise what you are doing is (for the) long-term.
“My aim is to send a lad back to his club, not necessarily as a better footballer but certainly a better athlete and more durable athlete going forward and going back into their clubs with 25-30 percent extra than what they had before. That’s the way it has to be going forward.”
Since last season, Callum Brown and Anton Tohill have moved to pursue an AFL career. Brian Cassidy, Conor Doherty, Shea Downey and Eoghan Concannon are overage.
Oisin McWilliams, Conleth McShane and Kealan Friel are on the doubtful list for Friday’s repeat of last year’s Ulster final.
Success this season aside, Donnelly takes a wider glance at the blueprint.
“You want lads to have positive memories of the times they played with Derry.
“Did they improve physically? Yes. Did they improve from a skills point of view, from a tactical point of view and did they improve as people?
“It might sound like an All-Blacks' mantra, but there is a lot to it. They are not the best team in the world for no reason.”
For the match preview, grab this week’s County Derry Post.
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