Hard work the key in minor success says Lynskey

Galway's Evan Duggan breaks away from Kilkenny's Conor Kelly in action from the Electric Ireland GAA Hurling Minor Championship final at Croke Park, Sunday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

Galway's Evan Duggan breaks away from Kilkenny's Conor Kelly in action from the Electric Ireland GAA Hurling Minor Championship final at Croke Park, Sunday. Photo:-Mike Shaughnessy

When captain Sean Neary raised the Irish Press Cup aloft in the Hogan Stand on Sunday afternoon, it was a case of mission accomplished for manager Jeffrey Lynskey and his staff as Galway's minor hurlers completed back-to-back Championship wins since 2005.

For Lynskey, the 21 to 14 point success over Kilkenny was his third title in four seasons and he admits the toughest.

"That was probably the hardest one of the whole lot. Kilkenny in the first half went a point up at half time but they got three or four scores very quickly [at the start of the match] and put us under immense pressure. And our lads had to react and that is what they did.

"The lads have worked incredibly hard since January. That is our 16th game this year undefeated. We have not lost a game this year at any level, challenges or Championship, plus 70 pitch sessions and 40 gym sessions. We trained in the snow when no one else trained. That is how much we wanted it this year but there is no secret to it, it is hard work."

The game started poorly for Galway as they found themselves four points down in the opening minutes. Kilkenny had the better of the exchanges in the opening half with Donal O'Shea's radar-like shooting keeping the Tribesmen in touch. Many sides full of 16- and 17-year-olds may have panicked and capitulated, especially with the tag of favourites bestowed on them. But Lynskey says that a lot of work is done on building the character of the squad and it is important to give the young sportsmen a chance to remedy their problems out on the field.

"We do an awful lot of work on the character and spirit side of things within the group. At halftime we tried to reinforce what their jobs were on the pitch. I knew we were in trouble in midfield. We needed to get fresh legs on and more legs in the half forward line. But we had the players to do it. It is a different story when you do not have the players. These lads who have been there the last two or three weeks, they were outperforming the lads on the first 15. I thought about changing team but I did not. I decided to trust the lads that were there.

"When they are minors and 16 and 17 years of age, there is going to be a [bad] patch, you have to give them a chance. It is a big stage out there. There are 50,000 people looking at them and you need to give them time to settle down and after 10 minutes it was four points apiece. We brought ourselves back into the game but then Kilkenny pushed on again and they were a point up at half time. But I knew from the last couple of weeks in training, the whites we call them, they were going better than some of the mainstays in the team. There was no panic."

'Dad, this is lunacy'

That character and resilience was built on many nights' training in rain, hail, and snow, and even the beach as Lynskey reveals that the lengths that players and coaching would take to make sure their did not miss a session.

“We could not get a pitch [because of the snow], I brought my two kids up to my own club [Liam Mellows] and believe it or not I got three shovels to try to move the snow off the astro turf. After about 25 minutes one of them bolted, he said, ‘Dad, this is lunacy’. So what I did was I looked out and the tide was gone out in Ballyloughane beach so we had 54 lads there and we trained for an hour and a half.

"If you are looking for one moment that encapsulates the whole year it was that. The character they showed, it was minus four or five, they were falling into puddles of saltwater, seaweed, the whole lot and they did not shirk because they wanted to get to Croke Park, they wanted to wear a Galway jersey. There is a huge amount of hunger, drive, and energy there and in fairness, in the second half, they showed that."

The success makes it 13 wins in 26 seasons for Galway minors and for Lynskey the future is bright for Galway hurling.

"We have tradition on our side. These guys are coming up at six, seven, eight years of age and looking at Galway minors from the last 20 years and seeing the homecomings, and the minors performing at Croke Park so there is a huge tradition there. That is down to the managers before me, Matt Murphy, John Hardiman, guys who have won minor titles.

"So in the last 25 years we have won more minor titles than any other team and that is down to the work in the clubs, schools, and academy system. It has taken us a long time to push it onto to senior but in fairness to the county board they have put the structures in place at senior level and U21 level, and we have a great structure at present and hopefully, the future bodes well."

But he also stressed the importance of keeping the minor category relevant as major changes to this season's Championship saw players aged between 15 and 17 only considered eligible.

"We need to keep this [the minor final] on the calendar before the senior. It is how we inspire the children to keep on playing. If you have another situation where you are playing other competitions and the minors lose out, what are they aiming for? You now have a 14- or 15-year-old who says, 'I have a chance to play in Croke Park before the seniors', he is going to want to play hurling. You do not want to lose them to other sports.

"Why are we changing something that the tradition has been there for the last 70 years? It should be kept on the calendar. Minors should be played before the seniors. What other sports body in the world do what we do? It is like the old adage - Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí - look after the youth - it is how we keep them. It is how we keep them in Galway. Keep it in the calendar. If it is not broke, do not fix it."


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