Frank Dawson impressed with commitment shown by rising stars
Having managed at county minor and county senior level, and having put decades of club management behind him, Down under-21 manager Frank Dawson admitted that his stewardship of the Mourne youngsters has been "a huge awakening experience".
Ahead of meeting Derry tonight (Celtic Park, 8pm), he said: "It's just such a short time. We had trials pre-Christmas but the squad only came together for the first time on New Years' Day. On January 1 we had 11 weeks until this game."
And while he has declared himself very impressed with how the players have come together and gelled as a unit, they will be without Warrenpoint players Donal McAleenan and Ryan Magee through injury.
Dawson also revealed that a significant number of players will be forced to take the day off work to travel from Down to Derry for an 8pm throw-in.
He said: "These boys make the same sacrifice in terms of getting home for training. They train fairly early in the evening, so these boys have made great sacrifices, because they want to be part of it."
While the players have gone the extra mile in their commitment, Dawson also has Down senior manager Jim McCorry to thank. Despite losing a series of high-profile experienced players such as Dan Gordon, Benny Coulter and Ambrose Rogers, McCorry has resisted the temptation to bring any of the under-21s into his senior squad.
"I think that also has helped him in that he has had to cast his net further and wider and see what is out there," said Dawson, before referencing Down's table-topping performances in Division Two. "The results tell the tale.
"But it's been brilliant for me now, where I have had the boys consistently and it gives you a good chance. I think because of the short time span you have really got to make use of every night.
"In the bad weather, we couldn't miss a training session. We had to train."