GAA Football

New Down minor manager Patrick Cunningham excited to work with stars of the future

Down have produced some excellent young players in recent years. Pic Seamus Loughran.
Andy Watters

CREATING an environment in which young people will develop as footballers and as people will be the ultimate aim for new Down minor manager Patrick Cunningham and his backroom team.

When work on that can begin remains unknown so for now the Burren clubman, who was ratified by the Down county board and the clubs last Tuesday night, is just looking forward to getting started.

Cunningham, who played his football with Ballymartin and became involved in coaching with Burren from U10 up to senior level, will bring leadership, enthusiasm and knowhow to the role. He impressed as a mentor over four years with the Down development squads and has now assembled an experienced minor management team that includes former Down midfielder Ambrose Rodgers (now a county coach), Down Games Development manager Conor O'Toole, Carryduff duo DJ Morgan and Paddy Doherty, Davy O'Hare and Kilcoo's Ulster Club Championship Aaron Branagan, who will also undertake a role as strength and conditioning coach.

Cunningham has succeeded James McCartan in the U17 role and his management team was chosen from an impressive list of names that also included Down All-Ireland winners like Ross Carr, Greg Blayney and Mickey Linden.

“It really was a privilege and honour to be offered the role and for the Down clubs to ratify the management team at the county board meeting,” he said.

“In terms of coaching, Burren gave me the opportunity to coach right through the club structure and since 2016 I've been involved with the Down development squads and I just hope to continue and build on that progress because, like all counties, there definitely is a lot of talent there and it'll be good to work with young players and bring them through.

“All the people in the management team have been involved in some shape or form over the years in Down development squads and we're all looking forward to getting started – like all coaches we'll enjoy interacting with the players and trying to develop and improve them, so it should be a bit of fun.”

Having started with the Down U14s in 2016, Cunningham will have come across many of the talented youngsters in the county already. That will be particularly important this year since the Covid-19 lockdown means that trials and get-togethers are ruled out in the short term.

“What all players want to do now is to get back playing the game they love,” says Cunningham.

“That's what we all want to do but in the current climate there are a lot of unknowns so we just have wait and be guided by what the Government guidelines are and then in turn by guided by what the GAA roadmap lays out.”

Interest levels remain high but Down haven't won an Ulster Championship at minor level since 1999. However, participation, enjoyment and development are also important factors and Cunningham intends to create an environment in which his county's best young players have the opportunity to maximise their potential.

“People have to remember that these guys are 16-17 years old and they have to deal with a lot of pressures and distractions in their lives,” says Cunningham.

“I view it that it's our responsibility to offer some sort of relief from that pressure and create an environment that is psychologically safe and where they can really express themselves and genuinely grow and develop both on and off the field.

“In this current climate, the main hope and target we have is to get back on the pitch and to playing football safely because the players enjoy going to games, participating, having the craic and meeting your mates… Getting back to that is the only target we have at the minute.

“Everybody involved in football and every parent wants to get their kids out on the field playing football, or hurling or camogie or whatever it is but it has to be in a safe and controlled manner.”

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GAA Football