GAA Football

Down must look to Tyrone model - Conor Deegan

New Down U21 boss Conor Deegan believes Tyrone's success can be an example to the Mourne County
Neil Loughran

THE emergence of Tyrone’s latest crop of young stars is proof that underage success can still be transferred to the senior stage, says new Down U21 manager Conor Deegan.

Cathal McShane, Mark Bradley, Pádraig Hampsey, Rory Brennan, Conor Meyler and Kieran McGeary have all made their presence felt with Mickey Harte’s Red Hands since winning the All-Ireland U21 title in 2015.

Indeed, Tipperary, Tyrone’s opponents in that decider, have also enjoyed the fruits of rich underage pickings as they reached the last four of the All-Ireland Championship this year.

Down have had little to shout about since Pete McGrath led them to the All-Ireland U21 final in 2009, but Deegan feels the Red Hands have shown what progress that can be made.

He said: “Every county will have a lull of some sort.

“Tyrone had a bit of a lull but they’ve turned it around. A lot of what Tyrone did brilliantly was base it around the U21 squad. The teams I played on, around the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, came from very strong minor and U21 set-ups. If you’re in finals and semi-finals all the time, you’re learning how to play against better players and that’s where we’ve got to get to.”

Deegan, whose appointment as Down U21 boss on a two-year term was confirmed last week, acknowledged that the Mournemen have some way to go to catch up with their Ulster rivals.

His immediate brief is to unearth some talent who can supplement Eamonn Burns’s senior squad as they look to bounce back from a disastrous 2016.

And Deegan, a team-mate of Burns on those 1991 and 1994 All-Ireland winning Down sides, is also determined to help restore a “feel-good factor” to the county.

“We have to be realistic - we’re not producing enough,” said Deegan, who guided his native Downpatrick back to Down’s top flight this year.

“We haven’t produced a competitive, winning minor or U21 side in quite a few years. They had a decent year in 2008, then in 2009 reached the U21 final, then 2010 the senior final - it doesn’t happen by accident.

“Really and truly, by U21 all the good work should be done. They’re in development squads, then up to minor - all the good stuff should be in them.

“The hope will be that we can find a few players and get them up to senior level as quickly as possible. That’s the aspiration. No matter what happens this year we will be continuing to try to develop and find a few more players.

“We want to start building a feel-good factor again in the county, and get young fellas wanting to play for the county, because boys are opting out at senior level.

“You just need a bit of positivity to come back and boys will want to be involved again. It doesn’t take much. We’re simple people – you just want the hope that there’s something tangible there.”

And Deegan feels there is a need for some new thinking as Down bids to emerge from a barren spell across the board and give supporters a reason to be positive.

“It’s a quandary for everybody involved,” he admitted.

“What is success? We have no divine right as a county. There’s always this historical thing, but we have no divine right to think that all of a sudden we’ll just produce a load of players and they’ll just turn up and play great football and the world’s a wonderful place.

“It doesn’t happen like that any more.”

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