Down U20 side to clash with Cavan in Ulster Championship quarter-final
Ulster U20FC quarter-finals: Cavan v Down (today, Kingspan Breffni, 2pm)
KILCOO Ulster Club Championship winners Ryan McEvoy and Sheelan Johnston will add an extra layer of experience to the Down U20 side that takes on Cavan at Kingspan Breffni this afternoon.
The pair, who played central roles in the Magpies’ march to last month’s All-Ireland senior club final, are joined in Conor Deegan’s Down squad by clubmates Anthony Morgan and Tiernan Fettes.
McEvoy is a survivor from last year’s Down U20 squad which has seen a clutch of promising youngsters, including Shane Annett and Liam Kerr, graduate to Paddy Tally’s senior panel.
Meanwhile, it hasn’t quite reached the stage where he'll need to introduce himself to his players before the game, but Cavan U20 manager John Brady says he hasn’t been able to spend a lot of time in their company in the build-up to this afternoon’s Ulster opener.
Exams and school and colleges football have tied up a lot of the Breffni youngsters this year and heavy rain made training difficult over the last fortnight, so Brady, like his counterparts across Ulster, will just have to get on with it tomorrow.
Now in his second year as Cavan manager, Brady guided the team past Monaghan last season but his side bowed out in the semi-finals against eventual champions Tyrone, who had accounted for Down at the quarter-final stage.
“It’s hard to get it right between college football and school football and all the rest,” said Brady.
“It’s hard to get a run at it this time of the year. We haven’t had them all together – you see some one day and others the next day.
“There was school football, Freshers, the Sigerson… Cavan Institute were playing until last weekend and St Pat’s were in the MacRory until the middle of January as well.”
The counties last met in the final of the U20 League in 2019 in a game Down won by four points. In this year’s league, Cavan beat Monaghan but lost to Armagh and Westmeath and since then U20 sides have been banned from playing challenge games.
“It’s like going in with a blindfold on,” said Brady.
“It’s hard to know where you are. Last year you had a better idea of it all because you had a longer run-in to it and it was in the middle of the summer. Pitches are a problem now as well and last weekend we couldn’t do much even with the lads we had because the pitches were flooded.
“It’s just a nightmare to be honest.”
He added: “I know Down have a few of the Kilcoo boys who got to the All-Ireland final, they have a few quality players. We played them last year and they had a good few playing who’ll be eligible again.
“They beat us that day and they are coming strong at underage, they have a good manager so I don’t know what to expect.”
Key forward Patrick Lynch, attacking wing-back Oisin Brady, Cormac Reilly, Ben Smith and Philip Nulty are survivors from last year’s championship campaign. Brady will hope for leadership from them but admits he is learning on the job this season.
“They are all good footballers – they have to be to get into the county panel,” he said.
“There will be competition for places but we’ll be able to gauge it better when we have more time together. We played the league but we haven’t played any challenge matches since so it has handcuffed me as well because you can’t work with the lads.”