Darragh O'Hanlon: Down not daunted by taking on champions Tyrone

Tyrone celebrate their 2022 final win over Cavan at Brewster Park Picture by Sportsfile
Tyrone celebrate their 2022 final win over Cavan at Brewster Park Picture by Sportsfile Tyrone celebrate their 2022 final win over Cavan at Brewster Park Picture by Sportsfile

EirGrid Ulster U20 Football Championship quarter-final 

Tyrone v Down (Wednesday, O’Neills Healy Park, 7.30pm)

DOWN are expecting a tough test this evening when they travel to Omagh to take on All-Ireland champions Tyrone in the opening round of the Ulster U20 Championship.

The Mournemen are under no illusions about the challenge they face having met Tyrone in last year’s provincial competition and shared a league meeting earlier in the year as well.

“It’s only the All-Ireland champions!” said former Down and Kilcoo footballer Darragh O’Hanlon, who is a coach in Conor Laverty’s U20 management team. 

“We played them last year, which was a great battle, and they pipped us by a couple of points. They got a penalty just before half-time and we actually missed an open goal just before half-time as well.

“They’ve got great players and we’re well aware of that and that’s the challenge that faces us but we’re going to take it in our stride and give it a real good go. It’s in their backyard too, so everything is going against us, but we’ll give it a good shot.”

Tyrone captain Ruairi Canavan, one of the most exciting, up-and-coming talents in the country, gains special mention, but O’Hanlon’s insists the Red Hands are far from a one-man team.

“He’s an exceptional talent. I saw him first-hand in the league last year, he tore us to pieces on his own and obviously we played against him last year in the opening round of the championship,” he said

“I saw him come on against Kerry as well, he’s an exceptional footballer, there’s no two ways about it but hopefully he has an off-night tonight!

“They have big [Ruairi] McHugh at midfield too, Conor Cush, Sean O’Donnell and obviously Ruairi, they’re really good all over. 

“We played them about two weeks ago in the league and they beat us by two points in the end but both teams were understrength, and

it was a game of cat and mouse really.

“They have exceptional footballers outside of Ruairi and Cush too so they’re an exceptional team. And even their management team, they have an All-Ireland title under their belt as well, so we know what they’re about.”

Coming into the Down U20 backroom team is O’Hanlon’s first step into management and coaching and the Kilcoo man, who was forced to retire from playing early due to injury, has enjoyed his time working alongside former club and county teammate Laverty.

“Me and Conor are obviously very close mates and played with each other for Kilcoo and for Down for a number of years. I trained the U13s in Kilcoo and Conor was always about, he was either involved in the team with me or his sons there.

“Obviously, this is a new challenge for him as well to manage the seniors and the U20s and he needs as much help as he can get and I’m really happy to be involved. It’s good to shadow someone like Conor, in terms of methods of coaching and management.”