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“Them are the kind of decisions and you’d always be saying to them when you’d be cutting off the panel that it wasn’t an easy decision and you’d hope maybe two or three years down the line they’d come along and prove you wrong and we’d be delighted if that happened.” Former Galway minor manager, Mattie Murphy, on cutting players from panels.
For many children in Ireland, dreams rarely stray further than getting the chance to play county minor when you ‘grow up’.
It is the be-all and end-all for most young boys and girls as they imagine making that run onto Clones, Castlebar, Croke Park, wherever it may be as the curtain-raiser to that day’s big senior championship encounter.
Some go on to become household names in the senior ranks while for others, being a county minor is the pinnacle of their sporting career. A prestigious honour that lasts a lifetime.
The majority, however, never get to experience it.
While the minor grade is a watch ground for up and coming talent, playing county minor doesn’t define who you are. The commonly held view is that in order to break through and establish oneself at senior level, you must first have come through the minor system. However, the truth is many GAA stars have failed to make the grade at minor level before bouncing back to become All-Stars and All-Ireland champions.
Lar Corbett, Eddie Brennan and Seamus Callanan are just a few well-known ash-slingers who failed to make the county minor panel but bounced back to achieve greatness. One player, in particular, though, was passed over when coming up through the minor grade only to return from the set-back and make himself the beating heart and defensive enforcer of an All-Ireland winning side – Gearoid McInerney.
McInerney was a promising athlete growing up in Galway, however, he failed to make the county minor squad which resulted in him falling out of love with hurling for a period of time.
Eventually, the All-Star centre-back found his passion for hurling once more through playing with his club.
“I played a bit at minor and I didn’t make the minor panel,” he said on Off The Ball.
“That stopped my interest in it totally for a while – for about a year or two. Then after a while I got the taste for it again playing for my club. I felt I’d just go for this again.
“I’d be fairly competitive, so I was playing a lot of sport at the time. I think I was playing five so it was just take your pick time.
“I played rugby in school, I think I even played badminton.”
You might be thinking, ‘how did Gearoid McInerney fail to make a minor panel given the dominance he has shown at senior level?’
Mattie Murphy was the Galway minor manager who passed up on McInerney and when asked at last year’s Electric Ireland minor awards which player stood out to him from his time in charge of Galway, he reflected on that one player he and his management side let slip through their hands… McInerney.
Murphy explained that the Oranmore man had the talent but the management felt he they didn’t have enough time to get him up to speed.
“The one that stands out is the one I rejected (McInerney) who came through. At the time when I was making the decision, it was clear cut as far as I was concerned and as far as my selectors and my management team were concerned.
“He wasn’t up to it at that particular stage but he was a raw talent and we had only a month, maybe six weeks but we wouldn’t have time to hone it. But he dug in… he turned around and he dug in and proved us wrong and he came and won an All-Star and won an All-Ireland.”
McInerney was a late bloomer in terms of his development. He always had the talent but at such a young age, like many teenagers, had not fully developed physically by the time the county minor coach came calling.
That didn’t mean it was the end. If anything, it was just the start.
With hard work, dedication and a good support network athletes can use the pain of rejection to propel themselves to greatness and Gearoid McInerney epitomises this more than most.
He returned to action with his club, Oranmore-Maree, where he developed his game. McInerney enhanced his skills as well as his physical conditioning playing alongside men. He also had the help of his father Gerry, a double All-Ireland winner with Galway in 1987 & 1988, who not only acted as his support network at home but also on the sidelines of club hurling.
Eventually, McInerney would go on to etch his own name in hurling folklore as the commanding centre-half-back on Micheál Donoghue’s Galway team that clinched a first All-Ireland title in 2017 before going on to be named in that year’s GAA All-Star team.
Not bad for someone who didn’t make the minor squad.
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