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Derry boys on mission to be pride of north-west

 

By Declan Bogue

Managing time, commitments and study is the name of the game for the combatants that head into the Ulster Under-21 football final tonight between north-western rivals Derry and Donegal, at the Athletic Grounds (throw-in 8pm).

Take the Derry captain, Niall Keenan for example.

A Castledawson man, he is the nephew of former Derry chairman John Keenan and steeped in the game, also playing a part in all but one of Damian Barton's ultimately doomed senior campaign in Division Two.

By day, he studies Chemical Engineering at Queen's, and admits the demands can be hard.

"There's a lot of hours you have to devote to it. You have assignments and group work and your tests. You are in tests a lot. You just have to organise your time around it," he explains.

Little wonder then that he was as perplexed as anyone over the late call off of the first semi-final between them and Armagh.

"It's pretty frustrating when you are coming down from Belfast all the way to Omagh and it was so close to the game starting," he said at the launch of the Eirgrid Under-21 final. Last Wednesday, he and his team mates eventually got the better of a powerful Armagh side in the re-fixture in Celtic Park, both sides agreeing to a coin toss for the game that Derry won.

By Friday, he still hadn't got any recovery work done and was turning his mind to foam rolling or even a dip in the sea if he could get the time to rejuvenate his weary legs.

Donegal's Lorcan Connor has some act to live up to.

In their semi-final win over Cavan, they put on a performance that left seasoned football observers to hail them as one of the best groups ever to play at this level in Ulster.

Connor, from the Downings, is their resident free-taker, a task he has observed closely from one of the best in Donegal senior captain Michael Murphy.

"From underage you spot something that works for you and you stick with that," he says.

"You watch the intercounty boys and they do the same thing all the time and you have to emulate that. Find out what works for you and I found what worked for me."

Studying Accountancy in Jordanstown, he too has become familiar with the practise of marking out your days in hours devoted to sport and academia.

He explains, "You just have to plan your days and there's football, there's studying and there's not much else.

"There's plenty of time for socialising when football is over, I suppose. It's a short season for the under-21s and you have only from December to March or April and you can do what you want for the rest of the year.

"So you just get your football right and your studying right for those few months."

Belfast Telegraph

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