GAA Football

Tyrone ace Cathal McShane laments abolition of U21 grade

Cathal McShane (Tyrone) and Kevin Loughran (Monaghan) pose for pictures at the Merchant Hotel yesterday ahead of next Wednesday's EirGrid U21 Ulster Final Picture by Hugh Russell

TYRONE ace Cathal McShane believes the abolition of the inter-county U21 grade could end up having a detrimental effect on a young player’s development.

Speaking ahead of next Wednesday’s Eirgrid U21 Ulster final between the Red Hands and Monaghan, McShane appreciated Congress’s thinking behind replacing the U21s with a new U20 grade – starting in 2018 - but has some reservations.

U20 players picked for their senior team will be automatically barred from playing at the new inter-county grade.

“When you look at how the U21s affected me, I was playing it and got on grand last year,” explained McShane.

“And this year I was on the senior team.

“For example, with the U20 grade, if a boy is good enough at that age he might be in the seniors and then the (U20) squad won't have him.

“That means he is not getting football with the U20s and when he goes onto the seniors, he might not be getting much game-time with them either because he is young. It stunts progress.”

Brendan Crossan caught up with Tyrone's Cathal McShane and Monaghan's Kevin Loughran at the launch of the Ulster U21 Championship


Entering his final year at U21 level, McShane was a key player in Tyrone’s All-Ireland U21 success last April.

The Eoin Roes clubman, who helped the Red Hands beat Donegal in the provincial semi-finals on Wedensday night and is also part of Mickey Harte’s senior panel, has drawn huge satisfaction from the U21 ranks.

“The seniors is brilliant, it's brilliant to be involved in and there are some great players, great people,” McShane said.

“What I feel about the U21s is that it is more my age group. We are all young workers or going into university, we are with each other a lot.

“It's been a great experience, I made some great friends last year with the U21s. We went all the way to the final and won it, done the double, so it was a great time, something you will take with you for the rest of your life.

“There was a great bond with the players, you are at that level where you are beginning to socialise with them a lot, so I have enjoyed my time with them.”

The new U20 grade at inter-county level is designed to tackle player burn-out among members – and McShane admits that being involved at U21, college, senior and club level can be “very time-consuming”.

“I love it because that's what I want to do - I want to play Gaelic and I want to play at the top level.

“When you are training on a Monday with St Mary's and then down the road for training on a Tuesday night, you have to fit in a gym session on Wednesday, training Thursday… You could even have something on a Friday and then a game at the weekend.

“You realise that you don't have much time to do anything but football. Maybe it does help in terms of freeing up players during the week.

“If it makes it easier for a player’s life, for their social life, their family and friends…[as] I have found it tough a few times in terms of a lot of commitment to different teams.”

Many of the 2015 class have moved on but this year's Tyrone U21s are still backboned by McShane, Mark Kavanagh, goalkeeper Sean Fox, Colm Byrne and Lee Brennan.

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