Minors on the road to Roscommon in championship opener

GAA: Connacht Minor Football Championship

Passing it on: Mayo minor manager Sean Deane will send his first competitive side into action this evening.

Passing it on: Mayo minor manager Sean Deane will send his first competitive side into action this evening.

The latest crop of young men from Mayo to represent the county at minor level will get their championship up and running this evening when they take on Roscommon in Dr Hyde Park in the Connacht Championship.

With no backdoor at any stage of this year's minor championship, it's win or bust for both sides, and with no preparatory competitions in the lead-up - both sides will be going into the game fairly cold, apart from a handful of challenge games in recent weeks.

It will also be Sean Deane's first competitive game in charge of the minors, having being appointed to the role of manager last Winter.

In the lead-up to the game he spoke to us about the work that has gone into getting the team to this stage and said: "It has been a difficult year for everybody in regard to Covid. We got a group together in the back end of January, beginning of February, that was effectively 60 players that were involved with the u15 academy because there was no Tedd Webb cup last year, so we had nowhere to start.

"We started with a group of 60, they got a strength and conditioning programme and we had a number of Microsoft Teams meetings with them. In fairness to that group of guys they worked exceptionally hard in difficult circumstances, but when things opened up we went to trials and everyone was back into the pot.

"The 60 were back in and we started again and trialed 150 players from across the county, we brought that down to 84 to play in the County Cup, which was 21 in each squad from the four divisions and then we went from that down to a squad of 32.

"It was a huge amount of work and a lot of players looked at, and even when finished, the trials and the club championship started at minor level. As a management team we looked at 36 different games, so we have trawled the county high and low looking at different players and outside of the trials we did come across some players that we brought into the squad of 32. It was an extensive process to say the least.

"The guys that we brought in (after the initial trials ), were guys that weren't in the trials because they were a year younger. All the guys in the trials were guys born in 2004, so they were in their last year of minor - 150 of them.

"Then we went on to look at games and a number of guys put their hand up that were a year younger and well able to compete. It might be a year, but it could be three or four months only, for a guy that is born in January or a lad born in November; there is three months between them, but there is a year for football grading."

Since getting their squad together it has been a balancing act of training, challenge games and club action for all concerned and the team have been on a constant development path since then, Deane explained.

"We played four challenge games over a four-week period and that was challenging for the lads too; the schedule would be a hard session on the Tuesday night, a lighter session on the Thursday night and then they would play championship football for their clubs on Friday, which was important, and then a challenge game with us on a Sunday.

"Their schedule was intense to say the least; over those four games the squad has evolved and the team has evolved and we have learned a huge amount as a management team and hopefully we've got it right in terms of getting a performance out of them on Friday. Ultimately that is what we are looking for, a performance, and I do believe that if they perform we will be competitive and that is what we hope for. The result will be the result at the end of the day, so you can only control what is in your own control and that is controlling our performance and trying to get one out of the team."

The lack of a back door in this year's championship and the reality that for many players it might be the only time they get to represent Mayo at inter-county level and they only get one shot at it, is something that could have been looked at, Deane believes.

"Absolutely - and I have spoken to the Cork minor manager from 2019, who works in the same organisation as myself. He was telling me in the first round of the championship in 2019 they were beaten by Kerry and got well beaten, but there was a round robin stage and they rallied and came back to win the All Ireland - so obviously it is difficult for the guys.

"You might get one chance to play minor and there is a lot of preparation that goes into it and you go out and that performance on that given day has to be brilliant to get to the next stage. It is disappointing, there is no sort of a round robin, I can understand from a Covid perspective, but I think it could have been facilitated in some way. When we look at these young men and they are the future of the GAA, more of an effort could have and should have been made to facilitate more than one game."

Deane has been very impressed with the calibre of the players that have put themselves forward for the team and the dedication of their families during the past few months, without whom it wouldn't be possible to be where they are right now, he said.

"The squad of 32 players we have are exceptional in terms of their attitude, but these guys have a fantastic attitude, their work rate, they are hugely curious and when I say curious, they are coachable and it has been my privilege and management's privilege to work with them and to get to know these young men -whatever the outcome is on Friday night; but they are a credit to their clubs, to their families and I have no doubt they will represent the county very well.

"Their parents have been hugely supportive, we were up in Hyde Park on Monday night for a run out on the pitch, the parents drove everyone up, we're not getting buses because of Covid and we have gone to other games where we had buses at the beginning and in the latter stages we haven't; parents have been hugely supportive in terms of being flexible and bringing the kids all around the country side for us. Without them we'd have nothing."


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