Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Faith in rookies paying dividends

Tyrone's Conor Clarke is one of a battery of young county players who could get their chance to impress in the forthcoming Ulster Championship
Tyrone's Conor Clarke is one of a battery of young county players who could get their chance to impress in the forthcoming Ulster Championship

If they are good enough, then they are old enough. How often have we heard that said about emerging players?

Managers are often reluctant to expose their younger brigade to the physical and mental demands of inter-county football at championship level even though those very same players may have impressed during the subsidiary provincial competitions and the Allianz League.

But recently there is clear evidence that more and more team bosses are prepared to permit such players to express themselves more fully on the championship stage and that's why I for one am looking forward with considerable enthusiasm to the forthcoming Ulster series.

The province is particularly well endowed with youthful talent and since the start of this year quite a number of players have come to the fore.

They may well have been pitched into their county sides initially on a trial basis but it has not taken some managers long to fully realise that they have unearthed potential gems.

Now those same managers will look to emerging stars to further enhance their reputations during the championship season.

Ulster and All-Ireland champions Donegal can expect Ryan McHugh, younger brother of Mark, and Ross Wherity to step up to the mark and they may well get their chance in the mouth-watering tie against Tyrone on May 26.

And you can be sure that the Red Hands will travel to Ballybofey well-armed with youth and experience.

Ryan McKenna, Ronan McNamee, Darren McCurry, Connor McAliskey and Conor Clarke are among their young guns who will be pushing for selection and that is not to overlook the possible claims of Ronan McNabb and Ronan O'Neill, two players who have spent the greater part of this year to date battling against injury.

This meeting of two teams who have met at the semi-final stage in each of the last two Ulster championships is viewed as the most attractive tie in any of the provinces and any young player who rises to the occasion could find himself in the national spotlight for the remainder of the summer.

When Armagh face Cavan, Stephen Harold will get another chance to show that he is a midfield player of rare quality while Caolan Rafferty, Gavin McParland and Stefan Forker can cement their credentials as scoring forwards.

For their part, Cavan are likely to include some of the players who took the county to a third consecutive Ulster title this year and in this regard Jack Brady, Fergal Flanagan and Paul O'Connor could earn some form of recognition.

Down manager James McCartan may have seen his side slide into Division Two but the form shown by rookie defenders Ryan Boyle and Ryan Mallon has been a source of encouragement to him as have the forward skills of Donal O'Hare and the ever-improving Connaire Harrison.

And Derry boss Brian McIver, who made it clear from the outset that he was going to place his faith in young players, knows that the likes of Lee Kennedy, Daniel Haveron, Benny Heron and Ryan Bell have what it takes to cope with championship pressures.

Antrim are blessed with exceptional talent in the form of the Johnson brothers Ricky and Martin from the Kickhams Creggan club and they will be pressing for places against a Monaghan side in which Drew Wylie, Chris McGuinness and Dermot Malone have been flourishing of late.

If the countdown to the championship is an anxious time for managers in general, then Fermanagh boss Peter Canavan has particular reason for apprehension.

Two of his most exciting young players, Eoin Donnelly and Sean Quigley, are just coming back from injuries and I am sure that Peter is considering himself fortunate that his team is not due in action until June 16 when they will meet the winners of the Armagh v Cavan tie.

Fermanagh have of course other young players who have been making an impact such as John Woods and Marty O'Brien but Donnelly, a substantial presence at midfield and Quigley, a sharp, incisive forward who possesses a natural scoring touch are the kind of players who can help galvanise a team.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this overall raft of youthful talent fares on the championship stage.

A whole new dimension can be brought to the All-Ireland Championship landscape because of the depth of youthful talent.

You can be sure the competition will be all the better for that.

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