Enjoying the game will always be the important thing for every player

This is Major! The tag line for the Electric Ireland advertising campaign showcasing the GAA Minor Championships, which began last week. The montages brilliantly capture the various ‘rites of passage’ that a teenager experiences. From being picked last on school teams, to the pressure of exams, to an expanding social life etc.

It also illustrates a young lads first real exposure to inter-county competition and the hard work that goes into it. Sure, they may have played in underage competitions before that, but it won’t have gotten the same attention. National papers will be covering these games.

Cameras rolling. Family and club members will come from near and far to lend their support; others to cast their eye over what talent is coming down the tracks for the seniors. There is certainly a few more butterflies in the stomach pre game, whether you are player, supporter or coach.

National Football League 1/4/2007 Limerick vs Donegal Limerick’s Pa Ranahan gathers possession ahead of Christy Toye of Donegal Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan

Remembering back to my playing experience, it’s something I cherish. I’d never made any Limerick team until minor level. Getting the Limerick gear bag.

The shorts and socks. Checking it 10 times the night before to make sure I’d packed everything. Pulling on that green Leonards Garage jersey. Standing for the national anthem in the Gaelic Grounds.

Feeling like my heart was going to jump out of my chest in the first few minutes. Questioning was I fit or fast enough to stick with the lad I was marking.

A roller coaster of emotions throughout the games. Because of the format – similar to the one that has returned this year – we played four games. It was huge in terms of development and helped shape me as regards playing for Limerick.

I just wanted more, although that was slow in coming. A huge thing was getting to keep the jersey after the last game. I still have it.

Of course it’s about so much more than gear but when it’s your first time getting one it does mean a lot. A badge of honour. Shaping around in it at every opportunity. Priceless.

In the years that followed I attended minor games as a supporter cheering local Ballysteen lads on but it wasn’t until I went to games involving my brother Darragh that I got a real appreciation of how much family members are connected to the action.

You just want things to go well for lads given the arena they are in and you can get that sense from every little pocket in the stand. Every ball is kicked and caught. Every challenge on your kin greeted with disgust.

And when all is said and done, the embraces on the field after can sometimes resemble the arrivals gate at an airport when a family member returns home after a long trip away, safe and sound. Apprehension and worry are certainly felt but pride is definitely the overriding emotion.

Action from the Limerick v Waterford Munster Minor Football Championship game yesterday. Photo: Eamonn Phelan/Limerick GAA

Last year I was lucky enough to be involved in a coaching role with the minors, a group that we had been involved with since U14s. That made it even more difficult to inform lads who had given so much commitment that they weren’t on the team or panel.

But they were a great group all the way up along and I would have hopes for a good number to represent Limerick at senior level in the future. And as much as you strive to win at minor, the most important thing is creating a positive environment so that they actually want to keep playing.

It was also impressed on them to be examples to their peers when they went back to their clubs and it was great to see so many already featuring for their senior or intermediate teams in recent championship games.

No matter what happens in the games this year’s minors are involved in, it’s so important that every lad embraces the opportunity fully and looks to improve every day he gets the privilege of pulling on the jersey.

It’s just the start of their inter-county journey if they are willing to put in the work. Even if it’s their only experience playing with Limerick, they should soak up every minute of it.

Too many times we look to the future without enjoying the present. Whether you are a player, supporter or a coach, it’s important to appreciate the journey. It might be ‘major’ – and it is for many – but there is enough stress and anxiety for teenagers. This is a time of excitement and promise. This is minor.

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