Minors are 'not going too well'
Minors are 'not going too well'
Wicklow welcome Carlow to Aughrim this Saturday in the first round of the Leinster Minor football championship in a local derby that is bound to attract a decent crowd.
The Minor championships are unique in that while counties that have a reputation or successful history at Senior level when it comes to the U-18s any team can emerge and become champions.
In 2006 Roscommon won the Minor All-Ireland championship after finishing level with Kerry in Croke Park the replay was won in Clare some weeks later. Within five years Roscommon were promoted from Division 4 and they are still buoyed by players from that successful Minor team.
A year later Carlow made it to the Leinster final where they lost to Laois and their current Senior team are lined with players from that team. Carlow made that final despite losing in the first round to Longford and accounted for Wexford, Meath, Westmeath and Louth en route to the final.
The Minor players themselves are often unaware how close to the Senior mark they are and even more so they sometimes think one defeat is the be all and end all, but as Carlow proved in '07 sometimes a loss is just a blip on the way to something special.
The reason that team was successful goes back to the year they were called into an under 14 development squad and were given the best coaching and care an underage team could have been given.
They were nurtured for four years and had the closeness of a club team by the time they were Minor. Owen Doyle, the Wicklow minor manager says his current players were involved in squads but not to the same extent.
"Some of them played in blitzes and other things like that as part of Wicklow teams but I don't think you could say they were brought in as a development squad, but that's why the likes of Kildare and Dublin and these teams are being successful and like you say about Carlow in '07 that's the way to go but it hasn't been like that for this team," said Doyle.
This Saturday is more than just a Minor championship game however it's a local derby and so no matter how well prepared either team are when there's a big crowd involved and major bragging rights up for grabs form and sensibility go out the window.
In the Wicklow camp things are apparently not going too well and Eoin Doyle is far from confident.
"We're not going to well at all at the moment, that's not me giving you 'codology' now but we're missing two of our biggest players from last year in Rory Marron and Thomas Donoghue and on top of that for the last few weeks there are so many players that have that dose that's going and they can't seem to shake it, so it's been hard to get everyone together and train properly and it's been very hard lately," offered the Wicklow boss.
When it comes to Minor football though the team that wants it more can often prevail and especially a team with a good morale and a bond can pull off unlikely victories. Doyle says despite the illnesses and injuries the team are well bonded.
"There's good morale there alright, it's been hard for them but when they've worked they've worked hard and all it would take for this team to go on a run would be a win on Saturday and when the tails go up anything can happen".
The banisteoir is aware of Carlow and what they bring to the table but even more so he knows what Willie Quinlan, Carlow's manager, brings to the table.
"I followed the career of Willie Quinlan in the 90's and what he's achieved is absolutely astonishing, I suppose in my eyes going up against him is certainly a challenge but the thing is most of the Minors in both counties probably never seen him play at inter-county level and maybe they wouldn't have the same ideas about Willie as older people would".
The Wicklow manager has kept a close eye on Carlow though and knows how hard they've worked.
"I heard the stories about early morning sessions before players went to school and that sort of stuff so there's no doubt they are taking this championship very seriously and are not to be taken lightly, from what I've heard they had a panel of 40 players and we just didn't have that amount of Minors to come in this year".
Looking at the Carlow camp then and Willie Quinlan says his charges are up for the game with their neighbours.
"There's great morale in our camp, the lads have worked incredibly hard and I'm confident for them going into this game against Wicklow, in saying that though we're very aware that this is a local derby and anything can happen, we've heard Wicklow are missing lads and this that and the other but they will have 15 players on the field and all will be capable of doing their job so we have to knuckle down and be prepared and the team that wants it the most will come out on top"
Carlow have had massive disappointment so far this year and it's come from all angles. Their footballers having hit the ground running against Tipperary have come apart and finished the league second from bottom. Their U-21s were humiliated on a desperate night in Parnell Park and their hurlers left game after game behind them in Division 1B.
At this point the hopes of a county rest on the Minors shoulders and a loss at the moment is unthinkable.
The Wicklow football end of things has had a similar fate. The Senior team are once again heading for Division 4 and the U-21s lost to Laois.
With both counties clawing for some kind of success the weight of two entire counties rest on the young men's shoulders. It's one thing for supporters to know that though but do the players themselves?
Owen Doyle is unsure.
"Look it's hard to know really, to a certain extent they probably realise how close they are to playing Senior inter-county football and from there they see how disappointing the year has been and so yes they must feel like there's a lot of hope on their backs but really they'll be very caught up with their own team and this game, and that's the way they should be, focused on the task at hand and looking to progress," said Doyle.
It's similar from Willie Quinlan
"The Carlow U-21s had a tough night in Dublin alright and it wasn't the players fault either and the Seniors have gone on to be very disappointing so yes I suppose there's pressure on the Minors to do well," said Quinlan.
When you zoom out it becomes very clear that the hopes of both counties rest on the players shoulders and in that you'd imagine attendance in Aughrim will be big. For now it seems like the result could go either way and don't be surprised if they can't be separated.