DOWN minor selector Ronan McMahon believes that the decision to replace the established u-18 age cap has so far failed to alleviate the pressures on young players. McMahon was part of the management team which steered St Colman’s to the AllIreland title at u-16 level earlier this month, and a raft of those players are involved on the Down panel which will take on Monaghan in the Ulster Minor Championship preliminary round on Saturday. They have a lot on their plate at present between football, exams and generally trying to find their way in this helter skelter world of ours, and McMahon is unsure whether the decision to regrade to u-17 level has really helped matters. “I really don’t see how regrading has relieved any of the pressure on our players, particularly on those who are in the middle of doing their GCSEs. There’s a lot going on between schools football, their clubs and playing for Down.” Thankfully, their manager isn’t a GI Joe type. James McCartan was an underage star who pocketed provincial and All-Ireland medals, and is acutely conscious that there’s no point burning out his players in the early throes of their intercounty careers.
He has a noteworthy backroom team as well with his brother Dan McCartan, Mark Poland, Ambrose Rodgers and Sean and Davy O’Hare also involved. “Since James came in a few years ago he always said that his mission was to bring boys through to u-20 level and subsquently the senior team”, said McMahon. “That’s from a man who has been there and done that throughout his player career so you know he genuinely means it. “If anybody is carrying injuries or knocks or has any other struggles at a difficult time in a young players’ life, James will give them the flexibility to focus on other areas other than football.” Down have a busy schedule at the moment; they lost their Ulster Minor Shield final to Sligo by a single point last Saturday, they’re out again this weekend, and if they spring an upset against Monaghan they’ll be out the following week against Antrim in the quarters. Derry manager Paddy Campbell had a similar headache last year as his Derry team played eight games in nine matches en route to their illfated Ulster final appearance against Monaghan. They had a mazy run through the backdoor so he’ll be hoping they get up and running with a victory against Armagh on Saturday week at the Athletic Grounds. “We beat Monaghan in the first round in the preliminary round and then we lost to Cavan seven days later in double extra-time by a point. Then we played a few teams in the backdoor, we’d eight games in nine days. It was too much, it was nuts. Thankfully we’ve had a lighter run of it so far this year.”