Updated: January 7th, 2024

McGurk Cup ideal preparation for Derry U20 hurlers ahead of Ulster Championship

Derry U20 Hurling manager Ryan O’Neill with James Friel following victory over Down at Owenbeg in the 2023 Ulster Championship. Photo: Margaret McLaughlin

Preparing for and playing in the McGurk Cup has been a worthwhile and useful exercise for Derry’s U20 hurlers as they look forward to the season ahead.

That’s the view of U20 boss Ryan O’Neill and his management team as they begin 2024 having capturing the county’s first All-Ireland title at the grade during the previous 12 months.

“It’s been a real focus point for the lads between training sessions. Getting two tough games at this time of the year was a real boost for them ahead of the Ulster championship” says the Kevin Lynch’s man.

The decision to enter and play his U20 panel in the McGurk Cup – a senior competition – was one that O’Neill is convinced will stand his young players in good stead.

“The win over Armagh was huge for this group,” he explains. “We knew it was a level above in terms of physicality but the lads didnt flinch. They were up for the challenge. The buzz around training and the energy levels have been brilliant.

“We’ve come up short there today against a very good Donegal team at their full complement. Good luck to them.

“From our point of view, it lets our lads see what senior intercounty is all about but that’s what they aspire to. Our aim throughout our time with the minors and now the U20s is the same. It’s about creating senior hurlers for Derry that are capable of challenging in a serious way for Christy Ring Cups and whatever else they can win. I’m delighted with the commitment of the young lads this year so far. I can’t fault them. We’re looking forward to the next few weeks and months together.”

Derry U20 hurlers get their Ulster Championship campaign underway against Down on 24 February. Meanwhile, Derry seniors open their Allianz hurling league campaign with the visit of Tyrone to Celtic Park, which will be played as part of a double header with the county’s footballers on Saturday 4 February.