Down County Board Chairman Jack Devaney has described the difficulty for the county Under-20s as they prepare for the Ulster final this Friday evening.
Conor Laverty’s side were seen as the standout team in this competition, but all of that seems entirely irrelevant as the final in the Athletic Grounds has been overshadowed by the death of Monaghan captain Brendan Óg Duffy in a road traffic accident a few hours after they won their semi-final against Donegal.
“I think it’s been on our minds actually, since the weekend,” said Devaney. “It’s probably as much because Brendan Óg Duffy was coming home from the game.
“It really brings it home how precious and precarious life is. Our thoughts around these games are usually on the next one, making sure they look after themselves and all of that. And yet, the ultimate thing is for them to stay safe.
“It’s heartbreaking. It really is. I mean, we have seen it happening in communities and clubs and families having experienced this aplenty, too many. But it really is heartbreaking to even see the pain that people are going through as a result of something that could happen in the blink of an eye.”
Some of the Down playing panel and management attended Duffy’s funeral last Wednesday in Monaghan Cathedral.
Devaney appreciates that their own players will be going through their own sense of shock and grieving that a contemporary of theirs has been taken from the world at such a tender age.
“They are not going to forget this in a hurry. It is not as if the next game comes along and life has moved on. That is going to be there for quite a while for them,” he said.
While some of the Down management are relatively young, Laverty pulled a coup by getting former All-Ireland winning Meath manager Sean Boylan to act as a selector. Boylan has long held qualities that people seek out and is acknowledged as a deeply spiritual presence.
“That’s one of the strengths that Sean Boylan brings to it anyway. I hate that term ‘life experience’, but you have a relatively young management team other than him,” Devaney explains.
“He brings something to the management team and he also brings something to the players. He is a different voice. A very unique and experienced voice that way.
“Even in relation to all this now, he is a very important voice for them.”
Meanwhile, as Down seek a new senior football manager after Paddy Tally stepped down earlier this month, Devaney is not narrowing their hunt for a new man by imposing restrictions on the criteria, or method in which it is conducted.
A selection panel is being finalised this week, believed to comprise Devaney, county secretary Sean Óg McAteer, former Westmeath manager Brendan Hackett and others to be confirmed. They will meet next week to draw up their plans.
“They will have a free hand in order to begin the process. In my experience over the last 10-12 years, that has varied. There have been all kinds of options that have been left open,” said Devaney.
“You can try to go after someone and headhunt a manager. You can throw the net out there and invite applications, or you can do a mix of all that. It’s not a closed process in that way.
“The selection panel may decide, ‘we have identified someone and we are going to go after them.’ We haven’t reached anywhere near that point so it is quite open at the minute.
“If a club decide to nominate someone, that is fine. Somebody comes to them and says they want to do the job, that’s fine as well. And somebody may call us and say, ‘here’s who I think,’ and that’s valid.
"From the outset, all of this is valid but the panel may go down a particular route.
“I have been there enough times to see that unless you have a fairly free hand in how you want to approach it, it can often be quite challenging.
“For instance, if you decide you are going to be tied to the nominations from clubs, that’s it. That sometimes can work out and sometimes it doesn’t.
“You have to put your trust in a selection panel as well. Because if you tie them to certain rules, that can almost frustrate the process as well.”