GAA Football

Kerry and Derry minors raise hopes of challenging Dublin

Derry manager Damian McErlain has guided the county's Minor talent to three Ulster Finals and this Sunday's All-Ireland decider. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

I DON'T know what the Derry equivalent of the Kerry 'yerra' is but we've been hearing a bit of that from a certain work colleague recently. No doubt that will continue for a few years, especially if the former's minors lose to the latter's in this Sunday's All-Ireland Minor Football Final.

It's a peculiarly Irish approach to downplay promising prospects, perhaps the opposite of the Arsenal attitude of talking up players in their youth and reserve teams, although 'Gooners' have largely given up on that after years of these prodigious prospects only turning into fool's gold.

Yet amidst all the quite justifiable chat about potential Dublin dominance for a decade to come, having already largely bossed the senior scene since 2011, there will be quiet hopes being nurtured in both Derry and Kerry.

Quiet is the key, though.

It just doesn't do to go around shouting the odds about how your minor talent is going to sparkle in years to come as senior stars on the biggest stage.

Tyrone folk are already getting excited about this year's U17 crop, notably Darragh Canavan, scion of Peter the Great – but, really, no one should be burdened with the 'Son of God' label.

Derry's lack of senior success, with not even an Ulster title since 1998, has dampened down their fans' fervour somewhat, but they're entitled to expect better times ahead.

The Oak Leafers have reached the last three Ulster Minors finals, winning two of those, and their season was only ended over the past two years by brilliant Kerry minors who went on to win back-to-back All-Irelands. They even beat Dublin in this year's All-Ireland semi-final.

Rather remarkably, Kerry had gone 20 years without an All-Ireland Minor title, from 1994 to 2014. The conveyor belt of talent had dried up apparently.

Apparently even more remarkably, they still won the Sam Maguire Cup seven times in that period, and lost a further four finals.

Kerry's 'failure' to lift the Tom Markham Cup disguised the fact that they were still producing very good footballers.

They won 13 Munster Minor titles in that timeframe, and only missed out on the provincial final twice.

Admittedly they only won seven Munster U21 titles over that period, but they did add four All-Irelands at that level.

Their five consecutive Munster U21s from 1995 to 1999, augmented by All-Irelands in 1995, 1996, and 1998, provided the basis for the great sides of the 2000s, which enjoyed five senior triumphs from 2000 to 2009, and lost three finals as well.

Mayo have only won one Minor All-Ireland since 1985, in 2013 – but they also reached the 2005, 2008, and 2009 finals. They won U21 All-Irelands in 2006 and last year.

Clearly, they have top level players.

They have taken Dublin to replays over the past two seasons, and did likewise to the 2014 All-Ireland Champions Kerry. Dublin beat them by a point in the 2013 Final.

It is utterly bizarre that some, indeed any, have mocked this Mayo team. They've definitely done better in this decade than any Ulster county other than Donegal.

The worry for Ulster is that there hasn't been an All-Ireland Minor winner from the northern province since Tyrone in 2010. The Red Hands in 2015 also provided the only U21 national champions from the north since Armagh in 2004.

I've put forward the theory before that U21 is a better guide to senior success than Minor, and given that Ulster sides won seven of the All-Ireland Minors from 2001 to 2010, that bears some scrutiny.

Only Tyrone, who have won four Minor All-Irelands in this century, added All-Irelands – and even Ulsters, unlike Derry (2002), Down (2005), and Armagh (2009), although the Mournemen came close and the Orchard crop still has time on their side.

That suggests the new U20 grade may be more meaningful than the U17s, especially as the latter are (obviously) even younger than Minors, with so much more development required.

The concern for everyone outside Dublin is that the Dubs have won four of the last eight U21 Football titles, including this year's last ever. They also garnered seven of the last nine at Leinster U21 level, including the last four.

Still, there's hope. Kildare won the Leinster U21 in 2013 and the Lilywhites have won three of the last five Minor titles in the eastern province, which should bode well for them in the U20s.

Dublin won't go away even if Mayo manage to beat them this Sunday.

Dublin have too many good young players, are too well-organised, too wealthy, and are working too hard, for them to be starved of senior success for any lengthy period of time.

Basically, they're like Manchester United

Yet that doesn't mean that everyone else should give up and leave the pitch.

The Red Devils' superiority in English football ended, even if they're turning the wheel to take them back towards the top again.

If Dublin win that'll be three-in-a-row, the first such hat-trick since the Kerry Golden Years, or the tail-end of them anyway. It'll be five Sam successes in seven seasons if the Dubs win this weekend, matching what the Kingdom achieved between 1975 and 1981.

Some may suggest there's no point anyone else taking on the Dubs next year, or for a fair few years after that.

At least two managers will think differently though.

Ultimate Minor success isn't required for senior triumphs, but it does no harm either.

Derry Minors boss Damian McErlain can nurture and develop the young talent in the Oak Leaf county now that he's stepping up to the senior scene after Sunday.

Jack O'Connor, the former Kerry senior boss who oversaw their last two Minor triumphs and took their U21s to the Munster title this year, will take on their U20s next year.

Kerry and Derry minors will be worth watching. Yerra, all eyes will be on the Dubs and Mayo, but sure have a look at the minors anyway.

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