GAA Football

Rescheduling of minor games 'a mistake' says Derry boss Paddy Campbell

Derry boss Paddy Campbell wants to see minor players on the biggest stage

DERRY minor manager Paddy Campbell has urged the Ulster Council to reconsider playing the U17 provincial Championship games as curtain raisers to the senior Championship again.

Alongside the creation of the U17 grade last year, there was a calendar change too with the games being played in April and moved away from the senior provincial series.

Monaghan and Down minors will face-off in a preliminary round game in Clones tomorrow evening with the four quarter-finals scheduled for the following Saturday at 6pm.

The calendar tweak means the minor players don’t get the opportunity to play in front of bigger crowds as was the case under the old format.

The Ulster SFC has been condensed into a six-week period – May 12 to June 23 – which are peak exam weeks for minor players.

Despite this, Campbell believes it was a mistake to deprive the young players of experiencing the big stage on Ulster Championship day.

“I think, in hindsight, it was a mistake,” said Campbell, an ex-Donegal defender.

“It’s probably unfair on the kids themselves that they don’t have that big day out before the senior game where their parents are in the stand watching them. I’ll not be minor manager forever and a day but I think it’s something the Ulster Council should look at again because it is a massive opportunity for them. Hopefully after giving this a go after two years they may reconsider that. It would be a massive boost for the U17 players.”

The 6pm throw-in times on a Saturday night aren't exactly conducive to enticing supporters to the U17 grade this weekend or next, with the semi-finals pencilled in for the weekend Friday June 21 and Sunday June 23 and the final is either Saturday July 13 or Sunday July 14.

Last year’s U17 final was played on a Friday night (July 13) in The Athletic Grounds.

The Derry minors will be eager to get back to their fifth successive Ulster final this year after losing last July’s decider to Monaghan.

The controversial dismissal of Magherafelt’s Aidan McCluskey in the closing stages didn’t help Derry’s cause as Donnach Swinburne’s penalty in the 52nd minute proved the difference between the sides.

The Oak Leaf men, who have added some of the U16 Buncrana Cup winning team to their ranks, face Armagh, managed by Ciaran McKeever, in a testing MFC opener at The Athletic Grounds in eight days time.

Speaking at Monday night’s Ulster U17 minor launch in Garvaghey, Campbell said: “If you look at the managers here they will all want to win the Ulster Championship. No doubt about it.

“But on a bigger scale it’s about developing the players, finding seven, eight, nine players that can move to the next level. That’s what we owe the county – to develop these players so that they can move to the U20s. That’s the long-term one.

“For sure, there is massive hunger in the squad and the management – we all want to win an Ulster Championship. But we’re all in the same boat.”

Campbell, now in his second year with the Derry minors, is convinced the county will be dining at the top table again over the next “two to four years” having witnessed the work that’s being done at academy level.

“Brian McIver is Director of Football in Derry and is doing a super, super job,” said Campbell, who played under him with the Donegal seniors.

“You look at the underage success over the last few years. They’ve just come out of the U16s, the Buncrana Cup, as winners (beating Donegal 1-7 to 0-7 in the final) and the work they’re doing at the academy is brilliant.

“There is a lot of exciting talent. Probably the general public in Derry don’t see what’s happening behind the scenes at underage level. The talent is 100 per cent coming through. It will be two to four years away before these lads become top-end senior inter-county footballers, but they’re nailed on for it. It would be a huge surprise if Derry wasn’t back at the top table.”

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