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Shea aims to have the final say for famous Derry clan

By Declan Bogue

A pity for fans of symmetry, that the Derry minor captain Shea Downey will be in the number 13 jersey tomorrow against Donegal.

He started against Tyrone in the Ulster quarter-final with number six on his back - the same number his uncle Henry wore when Derry won their only All-Ireland senior title in 1993.

Shea's father, Seamus, was full-forward, number 14 on the same day. Little wonder that the Lavey boy was destined for big things in the GAA as he prepares to face his second Ulster minor final in Clones.

"There is a bit of pressure to live up to, big shoes to fill, that's what he (Seamus) says anyway. He says that I should be more worried about my wee brother coming behind me than any pressure," laughs Shea.

With St Pat's Maghera, Downey was at centre-back for their MacRory Cup win over St Ronan's of Lurgan last March. The south Derry seat of learning have established something of a stronghold on college's football once again under the management of Paul Hughes. But at the same time, only four of the MacRory team makes it into the starting 15 of the Derry side this Sunday.

Damian McErlain heads up a management team of 10 individuals all tasked with precise and defined roles. A former underage coach with his club Magherafelt, McErlain has the highly-rated Killian Conlan - brother of senior goalkeeping coach Mickey - as a sounding board, and they also have Michael 'Mal' McMullen, sports journalist with The Derry Post newspaper, as statistics man.

At home, Downey uses father Seamus as the man to go to for advice.

"He would always help me out," he begins.

"Especially when it comes to the morning of the matches. He would tend to calm me down a wee bit. He would be a big help that way."

While he has seen the videos of the previous generation of Downeys claiming that '93 All-Ireland, stories and folklore of that time are passed on down through his grandfather, Henry Joe, rather than through Seamus and Henry. And then there is his grandmother, who is still a massive fan of all her offspring, although she cannot bear to actually go to the matches.

Instead, she goes to the local chapel and says a silent prayer.

While it was not needed in the Ulster quarter-final when they beat Tyrone 1-15 to 0-10, they possibly required some divine intervention in the semi-final against Armagh, when it took extra-time for the Oak Leaf lads to progress, 1-17 to 0-14.

Facing them in the final are neighbours Donegal. They took care of Antrim in the quarter-final 2-11 to 2-7, and Monaghan in the semi-final, 3-15 to 2-12.

The two met at the semi-final stage last year, with Derry prevailing before going on to beat Cavan in the Ulster final. From Donegal, only Seaghan Farry, Jason McGee and Niall O'Donnell played a role in that game.

Donegal manager Shaun-Paul Barrett was commenting on the sheer effort put in at this age-group, stating: "The way it is now, minors have to work equally as hard as the seniors. Preparation is very similar, in terms of their diet, nutrition and hydration."

McGee forms a seriously tall and skillful midfield with Kieran Gallagher, something that Derry will have to plan for, undoubtedly with Downey flooding the area.

He acknowledges: "It's hard to play against. They are a strong team. This year they beat us pretty well in the league and they ended up winning the league. But we are not just going to make up numbers in the final. We have to be ready for it."

Derry have a different look this year. They are without Conor Glass who is off to pursue a career in the AFL with Hawthorn, and Jack Doherty is overage. While there was more 'superstar' quality to last year's side, this feels more like a 'team' in its' truest sense.

It will come as no surprise to those that know manager McErlain, that he has already been to see the Munster minor final between Kerry and Cork. Should they win tomorrow, they are on course to meet Munster losers Cork. Lose, and it's Munster champions Kerry in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Downey is impressed by the set-up, and McErlain in particular.

"He and the whole management team are very well organised. We know what we are doing and what we are supposed to do. The whole thing is very well set-up and we are well looked-after.

"I was in the half-forward line, but I was roaming back last year as a sweeper. Getting forward as well. There was a lot of running involved."

Last year's involvement certainly stands to him, he agrees.

"(It was) Definitely a big help, experience-wise and confidence-wise.

"Derry maybe had a few years when they weren't successful at minor level. Last year gave us a bit of confidence that we are as good as anybody."

DERRY (v Donegal, UMFC Final): B McKinless; C McCluskey, G McLaughlin, A Bradley; P McGrogan, E Concannon, S McErlain; P Coney, O McWilliams; C Doherty, C Devlin, P Quigg; S Downey, F Higgins, E Bradley

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