For many 17-year-olds around the country the summer before heading into the final year of school is spent chilling with friends and relaxing before the landslide of work that accompanies the Leaving Cert. However, that has not been the case for Galway minor hurling captain, Sean Neary, as he looks to emulate his predecessor's exploits, Darren Morrissey, in lifting the Irish Press Cup in Croke Park this Sunday.
"The year has been great with the group. We are a very talented and hard working group," says Neary. "We all had this mind to try and get to Croke Park for the final on the third Sunday of August and hurl our best and perform our best for our families and clubs. We are enjoying the adventure and the campaign and hopefully we will enjoy one more day out as well."
The attitude of "enjoying the adventure" is certainly refreshing in an era where winning is everything and the old GAA ethos of taking part slowly fades. However Neary says although there is nothing but goodwill in his own parish of Castlegar, the excitement and expectation creates it own different kind of pressure of repaying all the support and guidance he has received from his school and club down through the years.
"There is real different level of excitement [compared to the semi-final]. It is great. Once the clubs and families get involved you only realise the achievement to date and how big the minor championship is. I am fortunate to come from such as a strong hurling club in Castlegar with a lot friendly people who supported me throughout my whole hurling career, and it is fantastic to have them involved, and hopefully, we can win it for them as well."
An aspect with which all minors up and down the country have to contend is balancing the ever increasing demand of training for minor intercounty athletes, demands of playing for their clubs and of course, attending school. But for the Calasanctius College pupil, he is taking it in his stride even though he admits it has been tough trying to make time to excel in all facets of life.
Stuck into the books
"It has been difficult enough because you have school commitments and minor training, but I will not complain because it is a fantastic achievement and it is fantastic to be with these bunch of lads. Thankfully I am going into the Leaving Cert after this year so I did not have to play minor while I was taking those exams so that has made a big difference for myself. Although I probably will need the time to study next year."
Although he may not be like his non-hurling classmates in having to juggle an academic career with a flourishing hurling one, Neary like many of contemporaries is looking ahead of his Leaving Cert, considering his options of what degree he would like to pursue.
"There is no concrete plans for what degree that I would like to do in college. I suppose I will have to focus on the study next year as much as I can and I plan on hopefully going to college next year, but I am not really sure yet because there is a lot of stuff ahead. I will focus on hurling over the next week and then I will have to get stuck into the books."
And focusing on hurling will be crucial for the half-back who won a county minor medal for Castlegar as he and his teammates look to break a run where Galway minor teams have won an All-Ireland title every other year since 2009 and earn back-to-back wins since the 1999/2000 seasons. But Neary is quietly confident Galway can retain their title as they take on a Kilkenny side which they defeated in mid-July in Thurles, in spite of having played fewer games compared to their Leinster counterparts.
"It will be Kilkenny's 10th game going into this final whereas it will be only our fourth. There is a difference there [in terms of match practice] but I do not think that will make any difference when the referee blows the whistle on Sunday. It is a strange structure to the minor championship but it has improved from last year for the likes of ourselves especially, and it hopefully will keep improving for the benefit of all the teams.
"But both teams will have done the amount of training so we feel quietly confident. Obviously it will be very tough against a good Kilkenny side and to beat them twice in the same year will be very difficult and will be a great achievement for the team."