Posted by Mickey Harte

Having success at underage level doesn't automatically mean that senior success will follow and young players need help to make the transition through the age groups

2012 Roscommon

Roscommon, Cavan, Tipperary and Tyrone have all enjoyed underage provincial and All-Ireland success over the last decade. But what does it take to translate that promise to the senior stage?

It’s always great to have success at underage level. It gives young players confidence to know they can perform at the highest level. However, it is too much to expect that it will automatically lead to senior success. Ideally, you want to follow up provincial or All-Ireland success at minor level with something similar when the step-up is made to the under-21s. You need that progression from under-18 through to under-21 and on to senior.

I think the break between the ages of 18 and 21 is very significant. It doesn’t always lead to a follow-on success. You can lose players who have great potential at minor level but who don’t get the chance to expand on that. The transition stage between those age groups is very important. That’s why it’s vital we keep the under-21 competition. It gives those young players the chance to mature. To expect too many of them to make a difference at senior level at the same time is unrealistic.

And that’s where Roscommon and Cavan are at the moment. They have some very good young players but they are going to need time to mature and they need experienced senior players with them to help them make that transition and become players who can lead their counties in the future. They are the important elements that need to be in place to encourage that progression.

I think Cavan have the potential to make a successful transition. They have had recent provincial success at minor level and they won back-to-back Ulster under-21 titles. There is obviously an awareness that future senior success will emanate from having strong under-21 sides.

They seem to be putting structures in place to guarantee better coaching at underage level and that strategy has been paying off over the last couple of years. But there needs to be patience -- both from the spectators and even from the players themselves -- so that they don’t expect too much too soon. If they can apply those principles then I think they can become a force in Ulster first of all and then make the next step to challenge on the national stage.

It is a completely different scenario in Munster, however, where Tipperary are currently experiencing exciting times, particularly at minor level. They are up against the two traditionalists, though, who always have quality players available to them. Both Cork and Kerry have won All-Ireland titles in recent times so the challenge for Tipperary is much steeper than for counties in other provinces. So that must be factored in when assessing whether they can go on to make an impact at senior level.

But you have to admire the way they won the minor All-Ireland last year and they seem to be building on that this year. There are significant challenges for them in that hurling is the priority sport in the county and then there are the big two who dominate every year. So, all-in-all, it is a tall order for Tipperary but the fact that they defeated the Dubs last September is a sign of the progress they are making. However, I feel that they need to follow it up with another successful year if they are to go on to make a successful transition through to under-21 level and then to senior.

In Tyrone, we have won four minor All-Irelands since 2004 and I am always optimistic that we can maintain that level of performance. It is great to have that solid foundation of underage success to help with building for the future. But, again, there are no guarantees of translating that promise to senior level. There are players who get lost along the way and it is a fact of life that you can’t accommodate them all anyway.

You really have to make sure to get the ones who are the most persistent – as well as the most talented and hard-working – and help them make the transition through the age groups. Within the context of the last decade there are enough of those players in Tyrone to allow us to take significant steps towards another senior All-Ireland. Of course, no one can guarantee anything but at least the potential is there and if we put in the proper work and a bit of luck shines on us then anything is possible.

IN TERMS OF last weekend’s games, I wasn’t surprised to see how fit and strong Donegal appeared against Cavan. They have been timing their run for the championship. They didn’t enjoy a great league but they still managed to stay in Division 1 and that was important for them. It is clear that they have learnt from last year and that they have gained a lot of confidence from the run they enjoyed in 2011. They are playing with a similar style but they are more offensive, as is evident from the score they racked up against Cavan. They weren’t as ultra-defensive as they were at this stage last year.

They are still conscious of their defence but they now put more emphasis on the offensive side to their game. Jim McGuinness is in his second year and he is refining his system but he will know they were up against a very youthful Cavan team. If they come through against Derry with the same confidence then they will be a force to be reckoned with not just in Ulster but in the entire country.