Tyrone minors delighted to get second shot at Ulster glory
A SECOND Ulster MFC semi-final in the space of six weeks has turned an episode of despair into a season of hope for six Tyrone teenagers.
Defeat to Derry at the penultimate stage of the 2020 series dashed Red Hand dreams at the end of June.
But for Ruairi McHugh, Cormac Devlin, Callan Kelly, Paddy McCann, Michael Rafferty and Niall Robinson, a subsequent campaign provided the opportunity to fulfil their promise and re-ignite the fire of ambition.
And they made no mistake at the second attempt, routing Fermanagh to set up a meeting with Donegal in next weekend's 2021 provincial final.
“We played six weeks ago against Derry in an Ulster semi-final, and didn't get the result on that occasion,” said midfielder McHugh.
“It hurt a lot, so I had that in mind when I came out on the pitch for this one.”
The Red Hand minors are keen to emulate the county's senior side by winning the Ulster Championship, and with two players in each squad, the Coalisland Fianna club is chasing a special double.
Padraig Hampsey and Michael McKernan have their medals, with McHugh and Brian Hampsey aiming to join them as provincial champions.
For the Hampsey household, the prospect is particularly enticing, and Brian will draw inspiration from older brother Padraig, the Tyrone senior captain.
“Paudie and Michael have got their Ulster medals, so if me and Brian could do that as well with the minors, we would be very happy. And it would be great for the club.”
Saturday's 30-point win over Fermanagh highlighted the exciting talent that exists in the Tyrone U17 ranks, and the depth of quality within the squad, with second half substitutes making a big impact.
“Our squad is crazy in the quality that we have. We saw those boys coming off the bench and doing so well, the likes of Conor Owens coming on and kicking four points,” said McHugh.
“And Brian Hampsey coming on and playing well, we saw him running through the middle and scoring a good point from the 45.
“The depth we have in our squad is great and we'll continue to keep pushing.”
McHugh was a major source of primary possession around the central third, a towering ball-winner as Tyrone targeted the Fermanagh kick-out.
“It was a dogfight around the middle, and they have big men and the weather suited them.
“We knew that they had a few target men in around the middle that were able to get up and win the ball.
“But we have that ability too, and it worked well for us.”
It was only after the jolt of an early Fermanagh goal that the Red Hands clicked into gear and began to dominate their opponents in every sector.
“They did have a good spell in the first half, but we responded to it, stood up to it, and raised the level a bit more.”
Preparations for the Ulster final are tinged with relief that the current squad did get to represent their county this year, having faced the grim possibility that Covid would wipe out the series.
“The new management has been first class, they have us very well set up.
“We're well prepared for this, we have been doing our homework, keeping grounded and so far it has worked, so we're going to keep going.”
Now it's a quick turnaround ahead of Friday's decider against Donegal, Tyrone's toughest test to date.
“The Donegal minor team is always going to be a good side, but I don't think they will have anything that we can't handle. We're going to be well prepared for them.”