Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

Down and out but on the up

Losing an All Ireland Under 21 football final in added time was a savage blow for Down footballers.

But now as many as five or six of that side must pick themselves up and focus on Sunday week’s Ulster senior football championship opener against Fermanagh in Brewster Park.

It’s absolutely no consolation that their tussle with Cork was a game that had everything.

It’s hard to recall a better match this year and hard to imagine it being bettered anytime soon, even at the height of the championship season.

It was the third time in as many matches that the Rebel county had come back from the dead when all seemed lost.

They were winning their second Under 21 title in three years and 11th in all, so giving them top spot in the roll of honour, one more than Kerry.

The Ulster decider when Down came with a late run to beat old adversaires Armagh was also a match to savour.

And it’s not that long ago that there were moves at a high level to abolish the Under 21 competition.

GAA Director General Paraic Duffy favoured such a move hoping it would go some way towards preventing burnout among young players.

But immediately after presenting the cup to Cork captain Colm O’Neill, GAA President Christy Cooney (pictured) was singing the competition’s praises.

“I’m an avid supporter of the Under 21 game. I believe it’s the purest that we have in both hurling and football.

“Perhaps people will now understand why the Under 21 grade is so important.

“If Down had won I would have been just as proud to hand them the trophy as they are a county with a great football tradition,” he said.

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