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THE Down U20s wanted to produce a performance that would have done Brendan Og Duffy proud in Friday night’s Ulster final and they did so to win their first title at this level since 2009. 

In a decider tinged with raw emotion after the tragic death of the Monaghan captain, Conor Laverty’s talented side emerged victorious after an end-to-end battle that went to extra-time.  

“It was just a rollercoaster,” said Laverty. 

“They were in pole position then we could have won it in normal time but maybe we weren’t as clinical and composed in the final third to see the game out as we could have been.

“We knew it was going to be a battle. This game went to extra-time at minor level. They are two quality sides but there is something a wee bit special about this group, there is something a wee bit different about this Down team and we have spoken about that. 

“They did themselves proud and they did the county proud.

“We have spoken about the ability to win tight games. Over the past number of years, Down teams haven’t maybe had that real ability to win that battle. We have talked about that as a group that we wanted this team to be different, we wanted them to have character and some of the training scenarios we’ve put them into was getting them ready for this final. It’s very pleasing as a manager when you see that because tactics and gameplans all go out the window, it’s just pure heart and honesty and that’s all you can ask from your players.”

The build-up to the final was dominated by the tragic road accident which cost 19-year-old ‘Ogie’ his life on the way home from Monaghan’s semi-final win. 

“We knew how hard it was going to be for Monaghan but we also knew they were going to come with a real desire and a real spirit to win the game for their friend,” said Laverty. 

“We wanted to put a performance in and show that this was going to be a battle. We wanted to express that we knew Brendan Og was a warrior and we wanted to produce a performance that would have done that young lad proud.”

Laverty and his players face a rapid turnaround with their All-Ireland semi-final against Connacht scheduled for next Saturday.   

“We haven’t spoken about Roscommon at all but they beat a strong Mayo team – who had beaten a really fancied Galway side – in the Connacht final,” the Kilcoo native explained. 

“I saw Mayo play against Cavan this year and they were very strong. So we know the challenge ahead of us and we are going to have to prepare to match the intensity that Roscommon are going to bring to the game.”

Meanwhile, after losing his captain in such tragic circumstances, Monaghan manager Andy Callan deserves immense credit for the way he prepared his team for the final. 

“I’m so proud of the players,” he said.

“They gave it absolutely everything. It has been very difficult circumstances after the tragic accident but I said to the lads that there’d be a shining star in the sky looking down on us. I know he (Brendan Og) would have been proud of the way the lads played.

“We were coming to win and so were Down. There is no such thing as fairytales in sport and we’ll have to lick our wounds and we’ll get the lads together and make sure everyone is looked after.”

Final score after extra time Down 3:15 Monaghan 1:14

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