Tyrone U20s boss Devlin urges patience among Red Hands fans as young stars seek to make senior step-up

Four players from the All-Ireland winning team joined the squad ahead of last weekend’s clash with Donegal

Johnny McGuckin and Shea O'Hare
Ardboe clubman Shea O'Hare has been named EirGrid U20 Football Player. Picture: Margaret McLaughlin (Margaret McLaughlin Photography )

TYRONE U20 manager Paul Devlin has called for patience as the county’s fan-base eagerly anticipates a spectacular breakthrough into senior ranks for many of his All-Ireland winning stars.

Four of the triumphant team have been called into the senior squad, but none of them featured in Saturday’s All-Ireland group defeat to Donegal.

Devlin said it’s important that they be given time to ease their way into the set-up and develop the next stage of their careers at a steady pace.

“We have to be mindful of the fact that these lads are 19, 20 years of age, and it’s important to be patient with them coming through,” he said.

“And I’m sure Brian (Dooher) and Feargal (Logan) will know that themselves. They have plenty of experience of bringing lads in, and they have brought boys through before that they had themselves in the U21s back in 2015.

“All being well, further down the line, when they get a year or two in the set-up, they will be able to push on.”

One of those call-ups to the senior ranks – attacker Eoin McElholm – is eligible to play U20 again next year.

But if he establishes himself in the senior squad, Devlin may be robbed of his services for the defence of the Ulster and All-Ireland titles.

This year, Ben Cullen missed out on the U20 success due to his involvement with the senior squad.

Also promoted to top level are Eirgrid U20 Player of the Year Shea O’Hare, Michael Rafferty and Ronan Cassidy.

The Red Hands have no less than eleven of the players who appeared in the All-Ireland final against Kerry set to return for a bid to win two in a row in 2025.

Still underage for 2025 are eight of the starting 15 – Conor McAneney, Joey Clarke, Ben Hughes, Conor Devlin, Conor O’Neill, McElholm, Ruairi McCullagh and Callum Daly, along with three who came off the bench at Portlaoise – Fiachra Nelis, Noah Grimes and Caolan Donnelly.

In all, 14 members of this year’s 30-strong squad are set to feature in next year’s U20 Championship.

“We had the same situation last year and the year before, and it’s always important to carry an overlap of players into the second year,” Devlin said.

Michael Rafferty lifts the All-Ireland under-20 title with his Tyrone teammates on Sunday. Pictured over his left shoulder is Niall McKenna, chairman of the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign group, set up in the aftermath of John Rafferty’s death in October 2022.
Michael Rafferty captained Tyrone to the All-Ireland U20 Championship and has since been drafted into the Red Hands' senior panel Picture: Oliver McVeigh (Oliver McVeigh)

“It leaves you that you’re able to integrate new faces into that group more easily, because the lads know the make-up of the system.

“It means that next year, when we start to bring in new players, it will make it easier for the coaches to tie it all together.”

Devlin paid tribute to his new coaching team, Diarmaid McNulty, Connor O’Donnell and Cathal McCarron, who came in at the start of this season to replace the departing Dermot Carlin and Owen Mulligan.

“They did a brilliant job. They have come in to a style of play which I want to put in place, and they have to buy in to that, which they have done.

“And Shane O’Neill, our physio, has great experience of playing football at county minor level, and his knowledge of the football is fantastic.

“Leo Green, our video analyst, puts a hell of an amount of work in, hours upon horse of work in presenting stuff for us to work on on the training field.

Tyrone U20 boss Paul Devlin was impressed with Down's win over Fermanagh in the Ulster preliminary round clash
Tyrone U20 manager Paul Devlin

“Stuff like that is invaluable, and it leaves the coaching that bit easier for players, when that material is prepared for them.”

The Red Hand boss has guided the county to three Ulster titles and two All-Irelands in his seven years in the role, but he insisted that the objective is not to win trophies, but primarily to develop players to represent Tyrone at senior level.

“That’s the whole goal, and the big goal is about how many can step in to that level.

“It’s nice to take silverware along the way. It’s a long trek up to Garvaghey a number of times a week for a lot of the lads, but if you’re stepping in to senior level with a few medals in your pocket, it’s well worth it. But the big goal is getting them up to be senior footballers.”