GAA Football

Tyrone U20s squad looking strong for defence of All-Ireland title

Tyrone U20 football manager Paul Devlin will have star forward Ruairi Canavan (centre) and Sean O'Donnell among 17 players available again for this year's campaign. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Francis Mooney

More than half of last year's squad will fuel Tyrone's charge for a second successive All-Ireland U20 Football title.

With seven key players from the starting 15 eligible again this season, including senior panellists Ruairi Canavan and Conor Cush, the Red Hands will carry the favourites tag when the series gets under way next month.

Also involved will be defenders Michael Rafferty, midfielder Ruairi McHugh, and attackers Seanie O'Donnell, Lorcan McGarrity, and Dan Muldoon.

Manager Paul Devlin, now in his sixth season in charge, will once again be assisted by Dermot Carlin and Owen Mulligan, while Connor O'Donnell has come in to replace strength and conditioning coach Conal McElholm, who has moved up to the senior set-up.

"We start from scratch again and we move on, and we have a look at how the lads have developed from last year, the boys who were in the panel and the new lads stepping in. That's where we're at," said Devlin.

"But I think we have seventeen of last year's 31 players available again this year. We always work with an overlap.

"We have a lot of lads who have been involved in schools football and universities football, all competing at a high level, and we had four Tyrone schools playing in finals at the weekend.

"We have eight or nine lads involved in those games, and it all speaks well for the way things are going on in Tyrone, and in the schools."

Devlin takes his side to Meath on Saturday for the first competitive game of the season in the Leo Murphy Cup, one of the competitions which make up the U20 Development League.

It will be some time before he has his full squad available, due to players' involvement in schools, universities and senior inter-county football.

"They're quality players, and quality players can slot in. we're training away with the bunch of lads that we have at the moment, and they're working very hard.

"And as we go along, and teams finish up their competitions, we're adding to it, and each week we're adding quality."

And he will have no problem in securing the release from the senior squad of ace attackers Canavan and Cush for the Ulster U20 Championship.

"We always have a good understanding with each other, and we're all looking at the bigger picture going forward.

"Feargal (Logan) and Brian (Dooher) are a pleasure to work with, we can lift the phone at any time and have a chat about where lads are at, and what lads are out there, how we think lads are developing ourselves."

In the meantime, the Development League will provide an opportunity to look at fringe players and assess the options available to him for sudden death Championship football.

"You get good value from it, and you get the chance to look at as many lads as you can.

"It's a good build-up to a Championship match, and gets you that preparation that you need, especially for lads who haven't been in your panel before or haven't been in any under-age panel. It's a good step up for them from the club game, helps the build-up for them, and gives them a good competitive game of football."

Down will be Tyrone's opponents in the opening round of the provincial series, with the teams set to meet at Omagh on March 29.

"Down always have good quality teams over the years, and their school teams are always strong.

"Down always puts it up to Tyrone, and you rarely get an easy game against them, so we're expecting a very tight, competitive game," said the Tyrone boss.

GAA Football