Mulligan: Tyrone U20s set to be drafted into senior set-up
TYRONE managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher are set to call up a troop of youngsters from the county's U20 squad to fill some of the gaps left by an exodus of players, according to former star Owen Mulligan.
Seven members of the senior squad have quit the panel this year, and with injuries further impacting on dwindling numbers, the All-Ireland champions are facing a crisis.
Paul Donaghy last week became the latest member of the Sam Maguire Cup-winning group to opt out, following the path taken by Mark Bradley, Ronan O'Neill, Lee Brennan, Tiernan McCann, Hugh Pat McGary and Michael Cassidy.
Mattie Donnelly is currently struggling with a hamstring injury, with the Ulster Championship opener against Fermanagh just over a week away, while Padraig McNulty's season has been ended by a broken arm suffered in the League tie against Donegal.
Treble All-Ireland winning Mulligan, a member of the Red Hand U20 coaching team, believes moves are under way to promote up to four players to the Senior ranks.
“I'll mention no names, but absolutely, there's three or four there,” he said.
“I would firmly believe that if we keep going and win Ulster, there's four of five of those boys that will make the step up to the Seniors.
“There's a great set-up here, and who's to say they can't make the senior team, with a lot of players dropping out.”
Asked if approaches have been made by the Senior bosses, Mulligan said: “I would say Paul (Devlin, U20 manager) and Dermie (Carlin, U20 assistant boss) have (spoken with Logan and Dooher).”
The Tyrone U20s are still involved in competitive action, and face Donegal in an Ulster semi-final on Friday evening, but a fast-tracked competition means that even if they were to go all the way to the All-Ireland final, they would be available to the senior management by the middle of next month.
“It's a short season, five weeks, so hopefully we'll see them.”
Mulligan, a Sam Maguire Cup winner in 2003, '05 and '08, and an Allstar in 2005, said the decision of the departing players must be respected.
“No disrespect to the boys that are dropping out, it's their own business.
“It's a big blow, but look, we don't know what's going on in people's personal lives.
“Compared to our day, it's a full-time job, it's nearly professional, it's hammer and tongs.
“If players want to drop out … it's not my personal preference. I think you should fight for the jersey. It's every other man to their own, so good luck to them.”
But such a significant reduction in squad depth cannot be sustained according to the Cookstown Fr Rocks man.
“Definitely not, but we see that there's boys that can step up.”
Tyrone's League form has been patchy, with relegation an almost constant threat until the final round of games, but the lessons of last year, when they came from nowhere to win the All-Ireland, demonstrates that they cannot be discounted in the race for Sam.
“That seems to be the mantle with Tyrone. Nobody gave them a chance last year and the Kerry game changed it.
“People are going to write off Tyrone, but that's when they're at their best.
“Those boys are seasoned campaigners, they'll know what to expect.”