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For Galway and Cork, this must be the longest week of their lives as they gear up for this Sunday’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland Minor Football Final in Croke Park.
The two squads have trained all season long for their one shot at glory and a chance to write their names into the record books as All-Ireland champions. A distinguished honour that can never be taken away from them.
Both teams are here on merit. Since suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Kerry in the Munster Final, Cork have bounced back emphatically with wins over Monaghan and Mayo. Ably led by marquee forwards, Patrick Campbell and Conor Corbett, they will feel they have what it takes to get over the line on Sunday.
Standing in their way, however, is a formidable Galway side who brought the curtain down on the Kerry stranglehold that had been held over the competition since 2014. Led by the guile of Nathan Grainger upfront and assisted by the power of James McLaughlin in midfield, they will be a real handful for Cork on Sunday.
Both teams will be brimming with confidence and fully prepared to go on and lift the Tom Markham Cup.
However, while they may be primed and ready to etch their names into county folklore, the harsh reality is that there must be a loser.
While it may be the longest week ever for both sets of players, the contrasting week’s that lie ahead are stark as one embarks on a week-long tour of the county while for the other comes seven days of despair.
It’s important though that these young men are made aware that win, lose or draw they have done their entire county, parish and family proud following their achievements. It’s also equally important that they know that for many of them it is just a bump in the road en route to bigger and better things.
For proof of this, they need only looking to the showpiece event on Sunday as Dublin go in search of an unprecedented five-in-a-row.
This all-conquering Dublin side are backboned by a core group of players who, nowadays, are more known for their impressive medal haul at senior level but the truth is they were the victims of what is widely known as one of the biggest shocks ever at Minor level.
Back in 2011, a rampant Dublin side were highly-touted to collect a first All-Ireland at the Minor grade since 2003 but a Michael Quinlivan led Tipperary shocked the Metropolitans en route to a 3-9 to 1-14 victory in Croke Park.
Of that Dublin side, no less than eight players have gone on to claim senior All-Ireland medal’s proving that heartbreak at Minor level is only just a stepping stone. The eight players aren’t exactly bit-part players either as many of them are now littered with All-Stars and All-Irelands.
Jack McCaffrey, Ciarán Kilkenny, Paul Mannion, Niall Scully, John Small, David Byrne, Cormac Costello and Eric Lowndes were all part of that Dublin side who suffered a heart-wrenching All-Ireland Minor final defeat.
While Scully, Byrne, Costello and Lowndes returned in 2012 to exercise the ghosts of 2011 by collecting the Electric Ireland All-Ireland title there can be no denying that the heartbreaking defeat suffered by that side a year prior has ultimately played a role in the current blue wave of Dublin dominance we are experiencing.
In total, the Dublin class of 2011 that famously lost the All-Ireland Minor decider has gone on to amass an amazing 34 All-Ireland senior titles.
For either Cork or Galway, next week will mark one of the toughest weeks of their lives but it doesn’t signal the end, it’s merely just the beginning of what is set to be a long and distinguished inter-county career for many of these 2019 Minor stars.
Brought to you by Electric Ireland
Minor players are embarking on their adult lives. They have hopes, dreams, pressures, distractions and ambitions, but for this one moment in time, the Electric Ireland Minor Championships is the major thing in their lives.
Follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor or be a part of the action; watch a selection of the GAA Minor Hurling & Football matches live or vote for your Minor Player of the week, with all nominated players in with a chance of making the Electric Ireland Minor Team of the Year 2019.
Find all information on https://www.electricireland.ie/gaa-minor-championships.