Tyrone ready for another tough task in EirGrid Ulster U-20 final
By Michael Devlin
Tyrone’s path to tomorrow’s EirGrid Ulster U-20 Championship final has been full of challenges.
The reigning champions were trailing by three points and less a player midway through the second half of their quarter-final with Armagh, but managed to find a way to haul themselves back into the game to eventually earn an extra-time win.
A confident Antrim then had the Red Hands at the pin of their collar by the halfway stage of last Saturday’s semi as a ferocious blizzard and battering winds made matters all the more difficult up in Lavey.
Again though, Tyrone found the necessary resolve to overcome the punishing elements and their determined opponents, 0-11 to 0-9.
Ideally, you’d like things to be a bit more straightforward, but team captain Antoin Fox sees the positives in being able to see it through, to “dog” the game out as he puts it.
“That can only be a good thing, that’s the way we look at it. The players coming on to get us over the line, and the character that we showed to dig deep, can only be good going forward to the next game. We have the experience that we can always go to the very end.
“Against Antrim, there was one stage the snow was hitting us in the eyes and you couldn’t see where the ball was going. It was just who could dog the game out.
“We were two points down by halftime, and we had no other choice to come out and give it our all. We tried to put them on the back foot right away and we did.”
The Loughmacrory club man values the strength of the collective as a key part of the Tyrone back six, but his forte is in the individual contest.
A prominent handballer with multiple underage All-Ireland singles titles to his name, Fox knows all too well that when things get hard it’s up to him and him alone to rectify the situation. It’s a state of mind he believes has benefitted him in terms of overcoming setbacks.
In 2018 he broke his shoulder only to then pop the AC joint in his other shoulder ten minutes into his first game back six months later.
Having made his way back to form the bedrock of the Tyrone defense last year, another setback came when he sustained season-ending ankle injury in the opening minutes of last year’s All-Ireland U-20 football semi-final defeat to Cork.
“Mentally, the handball is good for your psyche. You are in there one-on-one, and if anything goes wrong it’s down to yourself, you have to fix it.
“At the minute, football is taking priority, but you could get an injury very quickly and might have to change things, as I’ve seen before.”
For now football, and Donegal in St Tiernach’s Park tomorrow, is the focus for fox. He does hope to get back to regular handball action in the near future, but these days he’s resigned to just training games with his sister Mairéad, who plays in an All-Ireland minor handball semi-final tomorrow.
“She might be struggling to even see the game! It’s in Breacach in Beragh at 1pm, so we’ll have to find some way of getting her over.”
Tyrone’s Ulster U-20 crown is on the line come 3pm, but Fox insists the motivation is not to just preserve the success of 2019.
“Some of the players weren’t there last year and it’s not two-in-a-row for them, so we are here to make our own history, not live on last year’s success. Hopefully me and a few others can bring last year’s success to the group, and help motivate the boys.
“We set out at the start of the year that we wanted to take it game by game, and we set out where we wanted to be. Saturday, we are there, and hopefully we can get the result.”