Tyrone U20s focussed on defending their titles says manager Paul Devlin

Tyrone manager Paul Devlin guided the young Red Hands to the All-Ireland title last year. Picture Margaret McLaughlin
Tyrone manager Paul Devlin guided the young Red Hands to the All-Ireland title last year. Picture Margaret McLaughlin

EIGHTEEN members of the Tyrone panel that played in the Dr McKenna Cup this year had previously lined out for their county at U20 level.

That represents a very consistent conveyor belt of talent from underage to senior level and, along with that impressive player development, manager Paul Devlin and his teams have delivered a steady supply of silverware.

Tyrone begin the defence of the All-Ireland title they won so brilliantly last year against Down on March 29 and experienced U20 manager Devlin says the Red Hand class of 2023 is focussed on defending their titles.

“When you have had a bit of success this last few years, you see any county, you see your Kerrys, Dublins and whatever, and when things do go off the boil a bit you will always have somebody nipping and questioning what’s going on,” he said.

“With social media now, it spreads around very quickly. The lads have been doing well, they’ve been working hard, what people have to understand, what the people of Tyrone have to understand, when Tyrone played a McKenna Cup game in January I think there was something like 18 lads involved who have come through our hands the last three or four years.

“Those young players have gradually filtered in there, that’s success alone. People are sort of forgetting about that. Yes we are at a period where we have to bed in more new players, but those lads have come through a line of playing top level U20 football.

“We have been in three All-Ireland series this last five years and God knows where this year will take us. So, they have been all playing at a high level and there is a lot of good going on there.”

Devlin says it’s now up to Tyrone senior managers Feargal Logan and Brian Dooher to nurture the young talent coming through the underage ranks and he cautions that it may take time for some of them to find their feet at the highest level.

“Not all of them are going to hit the heights straight away,” he said.

“It’s pretty good in Tyrone within the group, all of us are working together. You have a vast experience of fellas who have played with the county through the years.

“Myself, I’m probably the oldest one there in the management groups at the moment, me and Feargal, but there are a lot of lads working there with it.

“People must take into account the lads that are putting in the effort and time to stabilise Tyrone. I’m pretty confident they will stay in Division One, and that will be a major boost to Tyrone football.

“We’ve got Down on 29th of March and (because it’s a knockout competition) that could be the season over, if it doesn’t go according to plan.

“The seniors don’t kick in with their Championship until the middle of April, so by the time the middle of April kicks in, a lot of this competition will have been played. Me and Feargal and Brian chat at the start of every week, see where we are at with everything, where we feel the players are best at, that’s the way we tailor it at the moment.”

The prolific scoring ability of Ruairi Canavan (1-15 over two games) saw Tyrone edge out Kerry in last year’s All-Ireland U20 semi-final and then Kildare in the decider. Because of his famous surname Canavan has to carry the burden of expectation but, like older brother Darragh, the Errigal Ciaran forward is steadily forging his own reputation.

“There is pressure on him but at the same time he's a level-headed lad and he’ll not get carried away,” said Devlin.

“He knows himself he has work to do as well and keep on top of his game and keep improving. That’s the attitude he has, Darragh was much the same, they keep working on their game.”

Team captain Canavan and U20 team-mate Conor Cush (another survivor from last year’s All-Ireland win) are both involved with the senior team at present. Canavan came on against Kerry and converted two frees as the Red Hands secured a morale-boosting three-point win.

“It’s important for the welfare of the player that they are not overplayed,” said Devlin.

“We have a game on the 29th and Tyrone seniors have a National League game three days earlier, that’s one both teams are going to need points, so it’s a big game for a lad to be stepping into and expected to go play a high level Championship match three days afterwards.

“So, big calls have to be made there and at the end of the day we have to look where is the call needed for, is it for staying in the division or for the welfare of the lad, so we just have to sit down and talk over that. And it has worked well this last six years, all the managers have sat down and have had good communication among ourselves.”



Wednesday, March 22 Monaghan v Armagh (Castleblayney, 7.30pm)


Wednesday, March 29 (7.30pm)

Fermanagh v Derry (Brewster Park)

Donegal v Antrim (Páirc Sean Mac Cumhaill)

Tyrone v Down (O’Neills Healy Park)

Cavan v Monaghan OR Armagh (Kingspan Breffni)


Wednesday, April 12 (7.30pm, venues TBC)

Fermanagh OR Derry v Donegal OR Antrim Tyrone OR Down v Cavan OR Monaghan/ Armagh


Date and venue TBC