Belfast Telegraph

Scrapping U21 football will hurt player development

Derry under-21 manager Fergal McCusker. Photo: Lorcan Doherty/Presseye
Derry under-21 manager Fergal McCusker. Photo: Lorcan Doherty/Presseye
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

Under-21 football has always been a difficult proposition. Some counties never take it seriously, devaluing its importance in player development.

It creates enormous friction between management of the under-21s and senior squads over player availability between the two squads

But what was clear from the campaign just past is that it remains a vital stepping stone for players progressing to become senior footballers.

Derry under-21 manager Fergal McCusker had to share the bulk of his team with senior manager Damian Barton, throughout their ultimately ill-fated Division Two league campaign.

Despite losing games, the likes of Niall Keenan learned enough to show that they are going to be mainstays of Derry's future.

In Donegal, they took a radical approach. Senior manager Rory Gallagher and his under-21 counterpart Declan Bonner came to an arrangement that the under-21 team would play in the Dr McKenna Cup.

They lost all their games, but they learned a serious amount about themselves. Perhaps other counties might follow their lead next January.

Monday night's fixture is the last ever game of county under-21 football, which will be replaced by an under-20 version that comes in for 2018. Any players part of a senior panel will be exempt from lining out.

McCusker stood outside the door of the victorious Donegal dressing room on Monday night, with the Techno thumps of Cascada's 'I Need A Miracle' surely torturing him.

But still, he managed to articulate an argument that drives to the heart of this strange decision.

"I don't understand the need to go to under-20. I think the GAA are just trying to squeeze out the competition, to put it right down to mid-June/July to put it right in the middle of the club season.

"I think they almost predict there will be a clash with clubs, and then say, 'well, what do you do, let's forget about it?'"

He continued: "I think that's a big mistake. There is a massive step from under-17 right up to the top. So they are going to struggle to fill that hole."

How could you argue with any of that?

Belfast Telegraph


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