Paul Devlin feels Tyrone U20s are starting to gel ahead of semi-final

The Red Hands qualified for the last four by going through their section unbeaten

Derry's Johnny McGuckin and Fionn McEldowney with Oisin Gormley of Tyrone
Derry's Johnny McGuckian and Fionn McEldowney with Oisin Gormley of Tyrone during the EirGrid Ulster U20 Football Championship game at Celtic Park last month. Tyrone's one-point win saw them edge the Oak Leafers at the top of the group and progress straight through to the semi-final. Picture Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

PAUL Devlin feels his Tyrone U20 team is beginning to gel as a potent unit.

The Red Hands will face one of the winners of tonight’s two quarter-finals after securing top spot in Section A in devastating fashion with a 27-point win over Monaghan.

“We’re telling them to go out and enjoy it, they’re young lads and they have the opportunity to play at this level, and they really are enjoying the company with each other at the minute,” said Devlin.

“They want to play, they want to express themselves. We said that from day one, I said look lads, what I wasn’t to say to you as a manager of a team, is just be honest with me and I’ll be honest with yous boys.

“Go out and express yourselves, go out to play football and put yourselves in the shop window to be some time picked in the county senior football team.

“If not, we’ll send you back to your club a better footballer all-round and a better person all-round.”

With four round-robin games under their belt, and just one point dropped in an unbeaten run through to the knock-out stage, Tyrone’s fluency and teamwork have developed with each outing.

“We won the All-Ireland a couple of years ago, and it took two or three game for them to gel together,” Devlin recalled.

“Through Ulster it was very tight, with a tough game against Down to start off with, and a massive game against Donegal and the Ulster final against Cavan, so it takes time for the lads all to gel and get the feel of everybody, and get the ideas that we want, we all want to go out and play football.”

With a two-week break ahead of the semi-final, Tyrone have a chance to rest and recover, and re-integrate injured players, such as vice-captain Ruairi McHugh, into the system.

There’s no room for error from here onwards, with sudden death football bringing a different and more threatening dynamic.

“We’ve got to the semi-final and we’re in to straight knock-out now.

“It will be a massive shift, and we have a lot of effort to put in.”

But Devlin is confident that his team can handle high pressure situations, having seen them come through matches against Down and Derry with positive outcomes.

“At the start of the year I told them not to be expecting to get the games as handy as they got at Minor level.

“It’s going to be tougher, it’s going to be tighter and more physical, and we saw that from the start of the games, we saw that against Down.

“Yes, against Antrim they put a good shift it, but Antrim improved as the games went on.

“It was put up to them by Down, and they never gave up, they kept challenging themselves, they kept testing themselves.”