Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Tyrone's future in good hands

New Tyrone U21 boss Feargal Logan in action for the Red Hands in the 1995 All-Ireland final against Dublin at Croke Park
Feargal Logan at work heading up law firm Logan and Corry

Feargal Logan is the ultimate pragmatist when it comes to answering just why he has taken over the reins of Tyrone's Under-21 side.

"There's a level of naivety in taking on any football team," he admits.

"And to be honest, if we weren't all naive, you wouldn't be at it because there are a very limited range of trophies available year to year."

He reminds us that anyone involved in sport has to dream dreams. His day job in heading up law firm Logan and Corry in Omagh would suggest that he has the analytical skills to provide accompaniment to the imagination.

And then of course he has his reputation as an ever-dependable player who captained Queen's in the Sigerson Cup and Tyrone in the mid-90s.

In the Ulster Championship, the Red Hands have the winner of the Cavan/Derry preliminary match on March 19. Cavan are going for four consecutive titles at this level, bolstered by the 2011 Ulster-winning minor side.

But to be a custodian of an under-21 team is about so much more than simply winning matches, as Logan outlines his main responsibilities.

"Part of it is the development of players in terms of going forward into senior county football. There are so many facets of that and you are at a very difficult transitional age in life, colleges and careers.

"The transitional period of football is equally difficult and insecure. Part of this job is definitely to broaden that base of players that are going to go forward and play senior."

The offer of the job itself came out of the blue. After a "tricky" year spent co-managing Donaghmore with long-time friend Adrian Cush, they guided the club to mid-table safety.

It was the end of three years in charge and both men stepped aside as they felt their cycle had come to a natural end.

That Sunday night, he went for a couple of quiet drinks with the players and felt he was free from football obligations for the foreseeable.

Within a week, he was county under-21 manager, excited at the challenge and the prospect of working with selector Brian Dooher.

"How would you not," he asks, "having played with him, not be delighted with the chance of working with Brian Dooher in Tyrone football?"

The reason for a spell in Donaghmore is because he had settled there with his wife Eileen, and their children are in the club.

Whereas some of his contemporaries went off on the merry-go-round of club management, he played on for his home club Stewartstown Harps until he was 40.

When he took over as player-manager in 2003 he made one request of the club committee – that Paddy Park would be involved with him.

He explains: "I thought I wouldn't necessarily play any more, but six months into that managerial role I started back playing."

Starting off in the junior ranks, in his first year they won Tyrone, and then Ulster, beating Monaghan's Cremartin in the final.

A trip to London to beat Heston Gaels in the quarter-finals followed and, although he doesn't say it, YouTube footage shows him hitting a hat-trick to win that game.

Paul Galvin and Eamon Fitzmaurice's Finuge accounted for them in the All-Ireland final, but it was a journey that propelled them right through intermediate ranks to become a senior club by the following year.

"A wee bit like this, that phase of my football life came out of the blue," is about as much he will say about it, self-effacement preventing him elaborating.

Now, he has one of the most responsible jobs in Tyrone. Those counties that ignore what's happening at under-21 level are flagging way behind and Logan realises that Tyrone haven't been hoovering up Ulster titles at this level for a while now.

The team that won four-in-a-row from 2000 to 2003 became the backbone of the side that won the county's first Sam Maguire in 2003, but since then they have only collected silverware in 2006.

They used to be top dogs at this sort of thing, now Cavan are.

Logan notes that former Tyrone player Peter Donnelly is at the heart of the Cavan underage success.

"They have maybe copy-catted a bit and added a bit on. We are not that precious that we can't copy them a bit back and add a bit on, we will try and do that.

"Cavan have had a flush of good footballers that have come up the chain, it is manifesting itself at senior level now, but the one thing I would say is that the Tyrone footballing base is big, broad and there is a lot of work being done around the fields of Tyrone on a Saturday morning with go-games, blitzes, right up through the way. That's where the real work is being done."

Logan should know, having helped out in recent years with the underage development squads, and he sees tools from his time there that are transferable to now.

As he states himself, players coming to the under-21s will be well used to the Tyrone way and also down the path of strength and conditioning. He also takes care to note that he will be scouring the county for late developers, "sleepers" as he calls them, who might just be coming good at the right time.

Ultimately, any manager is judged on the success he brings. However, there is a holistic side to bringing players through.

"The selfish, footballing side of me says, listen, just get medals in the pockets and then you can consider the thing to be an achievement. But there is a broader and bigger picture which I would hope that everybody in the management set-up will aspire to as well."

He finishes: "Of course, you would love to win trophies along the way. But anyone who has stood on a line and managed a football team would tell you how precarious it is."

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