Belfast Telegraph

Driving a winning mentality into youth may transfer success to senior level

By Declan Bogue

We ask it in a whimsical sense, not a rhetorical question mocking the competition.

We genuinely wonder is Under-21 merely a stepping stone to senior football, or a competition that raises the esteem of young players?

Derry manager Paddy Crozier said last week, two days before they went out to an impressive Cavan outfit: "The main thing is keeping them on board once they leave the minors.

"There are a lot of players who go between that level and minors and go missing. At the end of the day we are concentrating on keeping them on board between 18 and 21."

Frankie Fitzsimmons, whose Antrim team take on Armagh at the Athletic Grounds tonight, feels the same way, saying at the competition launch: "We are trying to get more players onto the senior panel, it's all about progressing players onto your senior panel."

The question is, should teams prepare to win the Ulster and All-Ireland competitions, therefore boosting the confidence of their players and giving them a winning feeling?

The by-product of underage success would naturally follow that players would progress to senior football in any case.

When Mickey Harte took over as Tyrone manager in late 2002, he knew he would be using the base of his Under-21s who won All-Ireland titles in 2000 and 2001.

Likewise, when Jim McGuinness assumed control of the Donegal seniors after a spell over the Under-21 team, he knew that he could count on the likes of Michael Murphy, Mark McHugh and Paddy McGrath to transfer their Ulster Under-21 Championship into success at senior level.

Right now, the Cavan senior team have an unblemished record at the top of Division Three, already promoted to Division Two with two regular games left to play.

They are also looking forward to playing a league final in Croke Park, therefore experiencing a one-off game at headquarters, the type of thing that really gels a panel heading into the summer Championship.

Tyrone are the latest side to try and put a halt to their gallop.

Last Wednesday night in Celtic Park, a Derry team full of players with extensive senior club experience could not get near the Cavan side.

Like any side that comes out of that county, Tyrone are well-equipped and have players schooled in good habits.

Winning the Shamrock Cup will also have done them no harm.

All roads lead to Breffni tonight.

Get along and you might just see a classic.

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