A look at the major players in this year’s Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships

As another championship season ends, it’s the perfect time to shine a light on the young players who illuminated this year’s Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships.

For the minor footballers and hurlers who took to the field to represent their counties, it is a major moment in their sporting lives. It’s a chance to play for your county, to fulfil your potential in front of huge crowds, and to achieve personal and team success on the national stage. Aside from impressive individual feats, this year’s championships also saw its fair share of major team achievements.

In the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Football Final, the young stars from Kerry achieved an incredible five-in-a-row with their 0-21 to 1-14 win over Galway. Even for a county as accustomed to All-Ireland success as the Kingdom, this historic achievement will live long in the memories of Kerry fans.

For Galway, there was some consolation in the success of their hurlers in the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Hurling Final. The Tribesmen overcame Kilkenny 0-21 to 0-14 to win an impressive third Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Final in four years. The remarkable success of both teams suggests that these minor hurlers and footballers will have a major say in the success of future Kerry and Galway teams.

Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year 2018

This year’s finalists dominate the Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year 2018, taking up nine of the 15 positions. Champion’s Galway had five players included while four of the players came from the runners-up, Kilkenny.

Munster champions Tipperary were just behind with three players making the final team. The other counties represented in the final 15 included Dublin and Limerick.

The judges for this year’s Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year 2018 included Galway All-Star Ollie Canning and All-Ireland winning Kilkenny hurler, Michael Fennelly.

Electric Ireland Minor Football Team of the Year 2018

Unsurprisingly, Kerry and Galway players feature heavily in this year’s Electric Ireland Minor Football Team of the Year 2018. The finalists made up seven of the 15 players on the team.

Players from Kildare, Monaghan, Derry, Dublin, Meath and Wicklow completed the team. The team was chosen by an Electric Ireland team of judges, which included All-Ireland winning captain with Tyrone, Sean Cavanagh, and All-Ireland winning Cork footballer, Daniel Goulding.

A minor’s life

Minors not only have to deal with the huge demands of playing at an elite level but they also have to navigate the same obstacles as their teenage peers.

That means going to school, studying for exams, making the transition into adulthood and dealing with teachers or parents. Not to mention working out what they’re going to do with their life or what the future holds for them!

Electric Ireland showed they understand the reality of being a minor and the support network of parents, coaches, friends and community that surround them. Then there’s the pre-match rituals and moments that take over ahead of a big game, from listening to the same playlist to getting that Championship Haircut.

There’s nothing minor about playing minor

Electric Ireland has sponsored the GAA Minor Championships since 2012 and one of the themes they wanted to continue to explore in 2018 was the fact that “there’s nothing minor about playing minor.”

For the minor footballers and hurlers donning their county jerseys and taking to the field, this is a momentous moment in their young lives. Like their senior counterparts, they’ve put in the time, made the sacrifices and endured the highs and lows that you can only experience in the white heat of competition.

For some, this might be their last chance to shine. Others will build on their minor experiences and get a chance to fulfil their sporting ambitions with their counties at a senior grade.

Even the biggest legends of the game started somewhere and, for many, representing their county at minor level was a formative experience that moulded them into the players they became. For most major stars of the game, the lessons they learnt and the memories they made at minor level will stick with them until they hang up their boots or their hurls.

Ahead of this year’s championship, four of the Electric Ireland judges spoke about their most memorable moments as minors and their fondest memories of playing at that level.

Galway's Evan Duggan, Seán McDonagh, Shane Quirke, Seán Neary and Ian McGlynn

Galway's Evan Duggan, Seán McDonagh, Shane Quirke, Seán Neary and Ian McGlynn

Kerry's Marc Kelliher and Devon Burns celebrate at the final

Kerry's Marc Kelliher and Devon Burns celebrate at the final

Losing hurts just as much at minor level

Losing hurts just as much at minor level

Galway captain Seán Neary lifts the Irish Press Cup

Galway captain Seán Neary lifts the Irish Press Cup

Sean Cavanagh - a major impact at minor

Sean Cavanagh called time on his Tyrone career in 2017, departing the playing field with three All-Ireland senior medals, six Ulster titles, five All Stars and a Footballer of the Year award, but he was a household name for many fans before he even kicked a ball at senior level.

In 2001, he announced himself as a star of the future when he lit up the minor championship. Cavanagh was only 18 then but was already close to being one the powerhouses who would dominate Gaelic football for a decade. Cavanagh’s most memorable minor victory came against a side that go on to be a fierce rival for Tyrone at a provincial and national level for years to come – Armagh.

"My most memorable win was my championship debut," Cavanagh says. "We played in Clones against Armagh and there were also 30,000 people in Clones in the second half of the game. It was my first opportunity to pull on a Tyrone jersey in a major match at a huge championship game."

Tyrone came out on the right side of a one-point victory, 1-9 to 0-11, and Cavanagh kicked two vital scores from play to get his county over the line. That minor victory in May 2001 would prove to be a launchpad for one of Tyrone’s most impressive talents.

Daniel Goulding - a minor career goal

Daniel Goulding’s defining moment as a minor saw him rise to the occasion on the hallowed turf of Croke Park.

“My first time lining out in Croke Park against the Dubs in a minor semi-final in my first year when I was actually Under-17,” Daniel Goulding says, when asked for a major minor memory. “I got a goal into The Hill in the first half, which was huge for a lad that had watched inter-county players in Croke Park since I was young.”

It’s clear that the memory is one that the former All-Star cherishes and one that would have informed his future playing career. Although a minor title eluded him, the Cork star’s experiences at minor level certainly prepared him for what lay ahead. All-Ireland success at Under-21 and senior levels followed.

The killer instinct he showed on the minor stage shone through when Cork lifted the All-Ireland against Down in 2010. Goulding was the top scorer and Man of the Match with a personal haul of nine points on the day. He rose to the occasion on the day but the seeds for this display were sown at minor level through his experiences at that level and the coaching he received along the way.

OIlie Canning - Minor memories and success

Galway hurler Ollie Canning played in two All-Ireland finals at minor level, overcoming Cork in 1994 to claim the title. Perhaps it’s no surprise that one of Canning’s most memorable moments at minor level would come in that match.

"My most major moment would have been in 1994, I was playing in the Galway minor hurling team against Cork," Canning said.

"We beat Cork in the final that year and it was the first taste you had of playing in front of a really big crowd in Croke Park and at 17 or 18 years of age, it really does leave an impression on you and gives you the motivation and the will to go on and progress on to U21 at the time, and then progress on to senior, which I was lucky enough to do."

That day would be the highlight of his minor career but he would go on to be a loyal servant to the Tribesman at Under-21 and senior level, becoming one of the country’s most recognisable hurlers in the process.

Michael Fennelly - a decisive minor moment

Kilkenny legend Michael Fennelly would go on to win three All-Ireland titles as a senior but he learnt an important lesson on his way to winning a Minor All-Ireland against Galway in 2003.

"In 2003 in the All-Ireland final against Galway, in the dying second we were winning by a point," Fennelly remembers.

"The game was very close and I recall the centre back getting a ball in the Galway defence and looking to make a clearance for one last attack. I remember committing myself to getting a hook in that second and thankfully I did.

"We kept the ball down in that area for the next 10 seconds and the game was over. Joe Hennessy [Kilkenny selector] came straight in and said that was probably the most important hook of the game and the winning of the game. That always stuck with me."

Fennelly would go on to have many a telling intervention in big matches but that formative experience as a minor would prove to be an important lesson for the young star.

The Electric Ireland Minor Star Awards

The Electric Ireland Minor Star Awards is designed to recognise the young talent that has entertained and thrilled us throughout the season. This year’s awards will take place at Croke Park on September 29.

The Electric Ireland judges have been highlighting the best displays throughout the Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championships. Each week, the judges choose six Player of the Week nominations - three from hurling and three from football. A public vote was held each week on the Electric Ireland Facebook page to choose an overall Player of the Week.

The Teams of the Year were chosen from the weekly nominees along with the Electric Ireland Man of the Match winners and the teams will be announced at the event. The Minor Star Awards will see the Football Player of the Year and the Hurling Player of the Year announced. This is a huge honour for the chosen players.

There will also be a Special Merit Award Winner, which will recognise someone who has made an significant impact on the minor game. The winner will be someone who has not only enjoyed a successful minor career but who has retained links with the minor game and made a major contribution to the grade through coaching and work at a grassroots level. The award is designed to acknowledge the people who have not only dedicated their life to the GAA but who have made a major contribution to minor GAA.

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. The Electric Ireland Minor Star Awards will take place on September 29. For more information, interviews and videos follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor and on the Electric Ireland Facebook Page.

Conor Kelly of Kilkenny is chased by Galway's Evan Duggan and Oisin Flannery

Conor Kelly of Kilkenny is chased by Galway's Evan Duggan and Oisin Flannery

Galway's Eoghan Tinney and Kerry's Conor Flannery

Galway's Eoghan Tinney and Kerry's Conor Flannery

Kilkenny's Eoin Guilfoyle is closed down by Galway's Oisin Salmon

Kilkenny's Eoin Guilfoyle is closed down by Galway's Oisin Salmon

Jack Kennelly of Kerry celebrates with family after the final

Jack Kennelly of Kerry celebrates with family after the final