Three of the province’s most high profile GAA figures are poised to take up a fresh challenge.
Peter McGrath, Ryan McMenamin and Gearoid Adams will all take charge of teams in the Ulster U21 club tournament which commences this weekend.
The event is being hosted by the Kickhams Creggan club near Randalstown and will encompass representatives from every county.
But it is the calibre of the team managers that has helped to give the tournament considerable status at a time when senior county team bosses are still assessing their reserves of talent in preparation for the Allianz League.
Peter McGrath steered Down to All-Ireland glory in 1991 and 1994 and has also brought his county to All-Ireland minor success as well as having taken charge of the U21 side.
Now he is preparing to oversee the Bryansford side in the Ulster club competition and appears to have unearthed a cluster of young starlets several of whom have already gained experience at senior level.
McGrath, who lives in Rostrevor and formerly taught at St Colman’s College, Newry, is regarded as one of the best managers ever to have emerged in Ulster and his Down team of the early 90’s included players such as the current senior team boss James McCartan, Greg Blaney, Mickey Linden, Brendan McKernan who is the father of current star Kevin, Paddy O'Rourke who up until recently was manager of Armagh, Ross Carr father of another current player Aidan, and DJ Kane.
Meanwhile, McMenamin — who won All-Ireland medals with Tyrone in 2003, 2005 and 2008 — will manage the Dromore U21 team which he has already taken to domestic success.
The 34-year-old, who recently confirmed his retirement from the senior inter-county scene, has won two Tyrone Championship medals with Dromore within the past three years and in terms of playing and coaching has rendered outstanding service to the club.
Adams, until recently part of Liam Bradley’s Antrim backroom management team, will take charge of St John’s, a side that contains a raft of exciting young players a number of whom are expected to break through into the senior county squad.
Adams was an Antrim stalwart for over a decade, a stylish half-back whose commitment and composure were allied to consistency and a marked pride in the jersey.
The Ulster U21 series will get under way on Sunday when Ballinderry, with Ryan Bell their playmaker, take on Fermanagh outfit St Patrick’s Donagh.
Kickhams Creggan club chairman Tony McCollum is understandably delighted with the calibre of managers that will be on duty throughout the tournament.
“It is very encouraging to note that these managers are prepared to put so much back into the GAA at Under 21 level,” commented McCollum.
“They have all tasted considerable success in the past but are still prepared to give their time and expertise to a new generation of players on a voluntary basis and I cannot speak highly enough of them.”