Derry v Meath
Saturday (2.30) – Inniskeen

Derry face Meath this Saturday in the quarter-final of the U17 Celtic Challenge.  The Oakleafers, following their league campaign, have been graded in division three and will play for the Corn William Robinson trophy.

With the restructuring of the championships, this new competition is in its third season and is described by Derry coach Kevin Kelly as an ‘excellent’ concept.

The traditional strong hurling counties compete in the All-Ireland minor championship and with the ‘B’ and ‘C’ grades being scraped, the new Celtic Challenge was born.

“Any county can enter as many teams into this as they wish but players who play in the Minor A championship are ruled out of this competition,” Kelly told the County Derry Post.

“This year there were 41 teams based over eight groups.  After the group games it became a graded five division knock-out competition, starting with the quarter-final stage on Saturday.”

Derry have a panel of 35 players from eight clubs.  Across the season 44 players have been used across five league games and challenge games with St Patrick’s Maghera, concluding with a run out against Tyrone last week.

“I contacted all clubs’ 2017 U16 managers and got the names of 77 players,” Kelly continued. “So currently 42 haven’t been able to commit.  There is a lot on for lads in this age group, especially with exams and the like.  The majority are still U17 next year, and you have got to realise it’s not for everyone.”

Games have been the key to Derry’s preparations, with the management getting a ‘great response’ from the squad.   The attendance has varied from 24 to 47 - averaging around the 29 mark.

“This is great for in-house games,” Kelly pointed out.  “We place so much emphasis on these and the standard of some of these games – they are top drawer.  But, it only comes down to the fact we have some great lads involved.”

The squad picked their own captains.  Eoghan Cassidy is the captain, with Ronan McKenna and Fintan McGrath as vice-captains.

“I know it’s a cliché but any of the lads could step up.  If you saw the performances and the leadership qualities they possess for 16 and 17 year-olds it’s excellent.  They are a credit to their families and clubs.”

The management team of Kelly, Lavey’s Martin Birt and Kevin Lynch’s Ryan O’Neill made the decision not to ‘run after’ players.  Being good enough is not enough, as Kelly explains.

“We only want lads who want to be here.  Lads must have the correct attitude and commitment.  And this might sound a bit silly, but we don’t want lads who want to mess about, degrade the game, the county or their clubs.”

With the busy schedule, the Derry setup was factored in around the players.  It was more beneficial that having low numbers at training that ‘inspires no one’.

There was a three week break coming up to the key exam period.  Before that players would have been playing four games a week, between U16 and minor in both codes.

“Marty, Ryan and myself are able to get to see them playing in the club games.  It’s very important that this program has a minimal disruption to club games.  I am coaching the ‘Screen minors also, so I know how it can feel,” Kelly added.

There was a need to be very economical with coaching sessions and focus on only the important aspects and game scenarios, with club coaches and parents encouraged to attend.

“It’s no closed shop, it’s the same as players.  This might sound weird but we haven’t dropped a single player.  Any lad can train with us, but unfortunately only 30 will make the match day squad.”

Kelly went to the County Board with the proposal at the start of the year and said that the support has been ‘brilliant.’

“They questioned it, as they should, but they backed it.  We didn’t ask for much, but what we have, they’ve been first class.”

Ruairi Convery has committed who will attend a few sessions.  Someone that Kelly feels the players should be looking up to and learning from.

“Having a man like that, now with 16 years intercounty experience, is what our lads should be looking up to, and trying to beat that record.”

The medical side of things are looked after by Dee Doherty, who like former minor manager Ryan O’Neill, knows the demands of players at this age group.

Looking ahead, Kelly feels the county’s hurling future is bright.

“Hurling is in a good place in the county, if you look at the bigger, wider picture.  We have good competition structures from U6 right up to senior.

“But with a wee bit more effort it can deliver, but the flip side is a wee bit less effort and it will fall back.  You can never have enough buy-in and there is always a need for more volunteers.”

Derry’s game this weekend was planned as part of a triple header with the Down and Antrim games.

“Hopefully, the lads will get out of the game what they put into it and it would be great to see a good strong Oakleaf crowd in Newry to cheer them on.

“In reality, underage inter-county hurling is about giving these lads a great experience of playing at a higher level and achieving what they can.

“But more important is to keep them playing for their clubs at senior level and stepping up to county U21 and senior after that.”

Derry U17 Hurling Panel: Cathair McElhinney, Darragh McGilligan, Pádraig O'Kane, Tiernan Farren, Eoghan Cassidy (Kevin Lynch’s), Emmett Donnelly, Jake Donnelly, James O'Connor, Jamie Murray, Lee Colville, Oisin McCluskey, Oran Fullerton, Padhraic McEldowney, Ronan McKenna (Ballinascreen), James Gerard McNeill, Ryan McPeake, Shéa Cassidy, Fintan McGrath (Slaughtneil), Daniel McGrellis, Dara Simpson, Jack Lynch, Jude Óg Moore, Keelan O'Kane, Niall Biggs (Banagher), Kosta Papachristopoulos, Leo Passmore, Lorcan McMullen, (Eoghan Rua), Callum Murray, Cormac Collins, Oisin Madden, Ryan McGill (Lavey), Pádhriag Nelis, Piaras Casey (Na Magha), Michael McCormack, Shaun Óg Deighan (Swatragh).

Management:  Martin Birt (Lavey), Ryan O’Neill (Kevin Lynch’s) and Kevin Kelly (Ballinascreen).

Medical: Dee Doherty (Na Magha).
Quarter-Finals (Division 3)
Saturday, June 16

Limerick Sarsfields v Galway Tribesmen
Limerick Treaty v Clare Saffrons
Derry v Meath
Down V Wicklow

Semi Finals (Saturday, June, 23)
Final (Saturday, June 30)

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