U21 landscape has changed warns Tyrone captain Burns
ALL eyes are on champions Tyrone as they begin the defence of their Ulster and All-Ireland U21 football titles on Wednesday.
The Red Hands are regarded as the team to beat, but captain Frank Burns has cautioned that the landscape has changed. The star-studded team that swept all before it in 2015 has been dismantled, and a new, largely un-tested, combination will take the field at Kingspan Breffni Park to take on Cavan.
“There will be a lot of people expecting us to do a lot this year, just because we were champions last year, but that’s in the past now,” he said.
“It’s a new year, new team, and we’re just focusing on this year alone. Last year doesn’t come into it at all."
Tyrone do have a number of significant survivors from last season’s triumph. Cathal McShane and Lee Brennan are already established members of Mickey Harte’s senior squad, while Burns himself is in his third year in the U21 team.
“They’re two quality players, both brought into the senior panel last year, and they have been doing well," Burns added.
“We do have men from last year, but we have lost a lot of big players. In a sense there’s been a wipe-out of the first fifteen, a lot of big names gone, so there’s a lot of new men in proving themselves and showing their worth this year.”
Tyrone’s victory over Tipperary in a thrilling All-Ireland final at Parnell Park last May was a major breakthrough, bringing a 14-year drought to an end. Indeed, it had been nine years since they had won a provincial title.
Burns sees the success as an important trigger in the renewal of confidence at various levels within the county: “You would like to think that a lot of players would be coming and trying to make the team because of what happened last year.
“It is a great confidence-booster surely, and I think it was good for the seniors even. It boosted them on and helped Tyrone as a whole.”
While Tyrone are reigning champions, Cavan have been the consistently dominant force at U21 level over the past five years, winning four Ulster titles in-a-row. The reigning champions could scarcely have been hand a tougher first round draw than a visit to the home of the Breffni men.
“Cavan are definitely a strong team over the past number of years. All you have to do is look at their results, how many Ulster titles they have won in the last five or six years. They’re strong contenders, they always will be, and we’re just focused solely on Cavan alone.
“Breffni is a tough place to go. I went there two years ago myself and came out with the wrong result unfortunately. They’re tough opponents and we’ll not underestimate them in any way, but at the same time we’re looking forward to it.”
The Tyrone management team of Feargal Logan, Brian Dooher, and Peter Canavan are in charge again this season, and their experience and influence will once again be a key factor as the team of 2016 goes in search of glory.
“They’re three very loyal and passionate men, very good men to have in there. You could see the difference they made last year coming in, and it’s great to have them back again this season.”