ANTOIN Fox won’t be the only youngster flying the flag for Loughmacrory when Tyrone take the field in today’s Ulster U-20 Championship final against Derry.
There are three members of the mid-Tyrone club on the panel – vice-captain Conall Grimes, Cathaoir Gallagher, and Fox himself – which is some contribution given that they haven’t traditionally been one of the leading lights of Tyrone football.
But whatever the result, it’s still been a fantastic spell for Loughmacrory nonetheless as their u-14 team successfully overcame raging hot favourites Donaghmore in last Thursday’s Grade One Championship final.
Fox, already a sturdy, well-built defender despite his relative youth, says it’s no coincidence that the Lough’ have been going so well at underage level.
“Winning the u-14 title was unbelievable for us and we just keep pushing forward,” he said.
“There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes with Ciaran Meenagh, John McElholm, Stephen McCullagh and Ryan Keenan. All those boys put in hard work for the club, they’re three Loughmacrory men and the future looks bright.”
While Darragh Canavan, not for the first time, grabbed the headlines for his four-point contribution in Saturday’s semi-final against Cavan, the Tyrone victory was rooted in hard graft and defensive discipline.
Fox and his club colleague Grimes were in the half-back line, and they didn’t give their opponents a sniff all day as they held out for a 0-13 to 0-9 victory. Their defensive resilience stood in contrast to their Ulster Championship opener against Down, where they let their opponents back into the game after opening up a 2-6 to 0-2 lead at half-time.
“It was the same against Down the first day out, we were 10 points up and they came back into it so we knew Cavan weren’t going to give up easily either. We knew we had to step things up against Cavan and make up for the mistakes we made against Down. We did well and our subs came on and got scores when we needed them.”
Fox was corner-back on the Tyrone side which won the All-Ireland U-17 Championship in 2017, but he was quick to point out that they lost to Derry by a point in the Ulster Minor Championship quarter-final the very same year at u-18 level.
There was an overlap between both squads at the time and many of the same players will be involved this weekend.
“At minor level we were beaten by Derry by a point in the first round so we know how good they are, and they have plenty of players still involved from last year.
“This year we’ve brought in a few new faces, like Sean Og McAleer, and it’s really freshened things up. This is where we want to be and hopefully we’ll push on.
“It’s helped us that we have players with experience of playing on the big day. There’s about seven of us in all from that team which won the All-Ireland, like Cormac Munroe who was our captain, Darragh Canavan, Ethan Jordan and Joe Oguz (who will miss the game through injury).”
Sunday has the potential to be a fantastic day with the Tyrone minors hoping to lead the way in the curtain-raiser to the u-20 match.
The u-20s already won their regional league competition, while their minor counterparts won a Jim McGuigan final against Monaghan, so hopes are high that they can complete a memorable double at the Athletic Grounds.
Fox said: “Hopefully it’ll be a good day out for Tyrone and we’ll win the both of them. The minors won their semi-final on Friday evening and it helped spur us on when we played
The Loughmacrory man also says that Tyrone still have plenty to work out, particularly on the shooting department, but it was encouraging that substitutes Michael Conroy and Ethan Jordan came on and scored a couple of points.
“We’ll enjoy the build up but know that we’re nowhere near the finished article. Our shooting let us down against Cavan and we can’t afford to be off our game against Derry.”