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Future is bright despite defeat, maintains Devlin

Rising star: Darragh Canavan
Rising star: Darragh Canavan
John Campbell

By John Campbell

The void between under-age football in Ulster and in Munster in particular remains despite huge efforts to improve standards in this part of the world.

Prior to Sunday, Tyrone had appeared to be challengers for the All-Ireland Under-20 title, while the Red Hands and Monaghan were also contenders for the All-Ireland Minor crown.

But the Ulster representatives were unable to cope with a concerted Munster onslaught which underlined the province's consistently vibrant structures at under-age level.

Yet even in losing to Cork in the Under-20 semi-final by 2-17 to 1-18, Tyrone offered substantial evidence that quality players are still emerging from their lucrative production line.

Darragh Canavan, Matthew Murnaghan, Ruairi Gormley, Sean Og McAleer, Tiarnan Quinn, Antoine Fox and Conal Grimes are among those who are viewed as candidates for the senior arena sooner rather than later.

With Canavan and Murnaghan having already had senior status conferred on them, even though they are playing in the Under-20 sector just now, the chances are that they will lead a battery of players to elevated status.

Tyrone's dedicated approach to mining and then nurturing youthful talent has paid handsome dividends in the past, and the feeling within the county is that the present crop of Under-20 players can help provide the nucleus of a senior team of the future.

Yet manager Paul Devlin accepts that it is still a learning process for his players in what is only the second year of the Under-20 Championship.

In succeeding Derry as provincial champions, Tyrone have already proved their worth, but Devlin believes that progress should be stepped up.

"We have to move on from here. When we were down to 14 players after Joe Oguz was sent off we were still in with a chance but it wasn't to be. We have to take what positives we can from the season," said Devlin.

At minor level, Kerry's reign is set to be extended even further. Following their 1-12 to 0-9 win over Tyrone, the Kingdom have their sights firmly fixed on what would be a sixth All-Ireland Minor title on the trot.

Tyrone minor boss Colin Holmes perhaps best encapsulated Kerry's authority when he described them as "an immense team".

And, just as is the case now in relation to Dublin at senior level, he added: "You look at where Kerry are at and you just have to stand back and admire them."

Monaghan, too, discovered that when a side ventures outside its provincial boundaries the quality of the opposition more often than not tends to be of a different calibre altogether.

In winning the Ulster title by beating Tyrone in the final and shooting 17 wides in the process, Mark Counihan's side had given rise to the belief that, with a little more shooting practice under their belts, they could discomfit whoever they would meet in the All-Ireland quarter-finals.

In the event, though, Monaghan discovered that Cork operated at a rather different level and, having built up a 2-8 to 0-8 lead at half-time, they went on dominate the second period too before winning by 3-19 to 2-10.

Monaghan, though, have discovered hugely talented players in Karl Gallagher, Jason Irwin, Liam McDonald, Darragh Dempsey and Michael Hamill, about whom much more will be heard.

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