WHEN it comes to learning the tricks of the trade up against the big boys, Oisin Savage need look no further than the man wearing the Down bainisteoir bib.
Less than a year after starring in the U20s’ Ulster triumph, the Loughinisland ace has forced his way into the senior starting 15, making his National League debut in Sunday’s victory over Wicklow.
It is an indication of the faith Conor Laverty has in the 20-year-old forward, and Savage insists Kilcoo’s artful dodger has played a major part in developing his game during their time working together.
“Me and Conor would have a very good relationship,” he said.
“In the last couple of years with the U20s, I’ve learnt a lot from him. We play the same position, I suppose we’re similar kind of players in some ways, but watching him play for Kilcoo, his movement has always been the big thing for me.
“That’s what I’ve really taken from watching him, that’s how he’s changed me as a player. Before that, you were up in the forward line and you just stood there, talking to your marker.
“But I’ve developed a good relationship with Conor and he has shown me different wee things about movement off the ball, and how to bring others into play.”
After a tough opening outing against Ulster champions Derry in Down’s Dr McKenna Cup opener, Savage bagged four from play against Cavan – and he hopes being back at Pairc Esler against Limerick on Saturday night will bring the best from him once more.
“Obviously last year we had good success with the U20s, but it is a big step up.
“Playing the club championship after the U20s was a big help… you notice even coming up against the likes of Cavan how big and physical they are, but I feel I’m adapting well.
“There’s a good buzz about the place at the minute. We know Division Three is going to be very hard to get out of, but all the boys have welcomed the younger lads in. There’s a good vibe around the group, especially with the new boys in the management team too.
“Everyone’s going well - I’m enjoying it so far.”
The good thing about coming through in Loughinisland is Savage’s has no shortage of experienced campaigners to call upon for advice.
Last year he played senior championship alongside 40-year-old former Down star Dan Gordon, while the likes of All-Ireland winner Gary Mason, Alan Molloy and county team-mates Jonny Flynn and Rory Mason are already in his corner.
Indeed, Rory Mason was manager of Savage’s U20 team in recent years, and came off the bench to replace his young protégé towards of Sunday’s win over the Garden County.
“I’d be close enough to Rory – he helps me a lot, him and Jonny would always drive me on.
“Then I played with likes of Odhran Murdock, Paddy McCarthy and Ryan Magill with the 20s too, so there were familiar faces about. There was a really good connection in that U20s team, and that probably showed out on the pitch.
“Coming out of that, us winning Ulster, I had loads of confidence and I’m confident now going into games with the seniors; every time I go out I’m confident I’m going to do everything right, that I’m going to score.
“Whenever I came in with the seniors, the first thing was to work hard and show what I could do at this level. I knew I was going to get the chance, but you have to take it when it comes.
“It’s a big opportunity.”