Fermanagh minor manager Niall McElroy accepted that his side simply came up against a quality side as they shipped a heavy 29-point defeat in their Ulster Minor Football Championship quarter final against Tyrone in Healy Park on Saturday.

Fermanagh were second best throughout and McElroy acknowledge that it was a harsh lesson to take for his young charges.

“We faced a brilliant Tyrone team full of very good footballers and they gave us another harsh lesson,” said McElroy.

“They are as good as any team in Ireland and they showed that especially with their quality on the ball. Any time they got into our half we found it difficult to stop them scoring even when we had extra bodies back. They could score and execute skills to a high level when under pressure.

“There were positives for us as well despite the scoreline. I felt we put together some good passages of play when we had the ball, worked some nice scores and our two goals were of a high quality. Our first goal was as good a team goal as you will see.”

This year saw a new structure to the minor championship with group games before the knockout stages and McElroy says that it only shone a brighter light on the gap between the top teams and the rest with Fermanagh losing heavily to Monaghan and Derry in the group stages as well.

“The time has come for a proper look at competition structures. The score lines in the quarter finals of the championship at the weekend show this as well. In three of the four quarter finals there were winning margins of 11 points, 20 points and 29 points. There was a 39 point difference and a few other 20 points wins in group stage matches as well. That shouldn’t be happening.

“The new championship format this year that Ulster GAA brought in actually highlighted the issues even more and I believe they now have a responsibility to bring changes in. In previous years with a knockout championship or even the back door format there were less games so the gaps were hidden somewhat, once a team was knocked out things quickly moved on.

“This year, week-on-week in the league and championship there were big defeats happening so it can’t be overlooked now. There are other ways of developing players without getting regular hammerings along the way. The bigger counties are only getting stronger and it is making it even more difficult to compete,” he commented.

On the season as a whole, he added: “It was a challenging season. We found the going extremely tough in a lot of games. But we could see improvement throughout the year, game on game, and that was a positive. The lads got exposure to a very high level of football in both the league and championship and that has improved them. We had a great victory over Down in Brewster Park that got us into the knock out stages and I hope that is a lasting memory for the lads when they look back at their time playing for Fermanagh in the Ulster minor championship rather than some of the defeats.

And he says that he enjoyed working with the players and management team.

“I had a really enjoyable year working with the lads and with the backroom team who put in a lot of work with the group. They are a great bunch of young fellas. They are proud to pull on the Fermanagh jersey and worked really hard to represent the county as well as they could.

“They had some tough days out but kept coming back for more time and again and I’m proud of them for that. They have built great resilience over the course of the campaign and that will stand to them.”