Ahead of this years Electric Ireland GAA Minor Championship Finals
Denis Hurley sat down with one of the stars from last years winning Minor Football team, Mayo - Diarmuid O'Connor to see what playing Minors meant to him.
Mayo football starlet Diarmuid O’Connor has been spending his summer coaching kids at camps all over Mayo, with the recognition levels growing as the county’s championship campaign continues.
He admits that last year’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor title win has aided the notice he is receiving too, but even he was surprised when that victory helped to propel him onto James Horan's panel for 2014.
“To be honest, I thought I might have a chance in another year or two,” he says, “I definitely wasn't expecting James’s call. I was delighted to get the opportunity though; I didn't hesitate at all when he asked me to come in.
“That was in December, just before Christmas. I had heard he was on to one or two of the lads before me, thank God for that as I’d have probably thought it was somebody playing a prank otherwise!”
The step from minor to senior is a considerable one, but Diarmuid has made impressive progress.
“The first while, the physicality and the intensity were hard to match,” he says, “and they still are in a way, I suppose.
“I try to work closely with Ed Coughlan, who’s the strength and conditioning coach. He helps me out a lot and I feel I've improved in that area, I'm getting to the level where I'm able to match the physicality of other senior inter-county players.
“I've another bit to go, but I'm hopeful that I'll get there.”
Having the experience of winning the All-Ireland last year was a massive boost, he feels.
“I suppose it definitely did help, confidence-wise,” he says.
“You've done something that some of the players in the senior team haven’t done before. It’s brilliant in that it gives you a great winning mentality, which is a huge help coming in with the seniors.”
Stephen Coen, last year’s Electric Ireland All-Ireland minor-winning captain, is the other player to have made the jump but Diarmuid has hardly had time to compute it all.
“It has flown by, to be honest,” he says, “I didn't really feel it at all, it seems like only last week that the FBD League was finishing.
“You almost don’t realise that you’re improving, it’s only when you take a step back and remember where you started. It’s a learning curve, for sure; the bottom line is that you have to keep improving.
“The way we’re treated in there, we’re regarded as senior players as much as anyone else.
“James and the rest of the backroom team treat us the same as any other player, which is good. Older players like Andy Moran and Alan Dillon have helped me a lot in terms of settling in, you almost feel like you’ve been there as long as they have.”
Diarmuid’s older brother Cillian is also on the panel and his advice is a huge asset.
“Cillian has a big help, especially off the pitch,” he said.
“He’d be advising me training-wise and with gym work. He’s pushing me all the time, which can only help.
“There’s always something you can look to improve on, and I’m lucky to have a lot of people around who can provide assistance with that.”
Even with all that, Diarmuid wasn’t expecting to be named to start for Mayo’s Connacht championship opener away to New York.
“I had been going well in training coming up that, but to be honest, it still was a big surprise,” he says.
“At the start of the year, if someone had told me that I’d be starting the first game for Mayo in the senior championship I wouldn’t have believed them! It went well out there and I was happy enough with my performance.”
That performance came at wing-forward, as opposed to midfield, where he shone during last year’s minor run. He has adapted well to the new environment.
“For most of my life, I would have played midfield,” he says.
“Since the first phone call and first training session though, James made it clear that he was looking at me more as a wing-forward, and for the club senior team I’m playing wing-forward too.
“I’m lucky that I’m playing alongside Alan Dillon, one of the best wing-forwards in the country. He has taught me a lot of what I need to know about playing in that position.”
It is there he is likely to be against Cork on Sunday. If his propulsion to senior level has had one drawback, it’s that he has been denied the chance to keep an eye on this year’s minors, even though he’s following their progress.
“I haven’t been able to watch many of the games, being in with the seniors,” he says, “but I’m following it alright.
“Mayo are doing well again this year, with back-to-back Connacht titles, and I’ll be looking forward to hearing updates from the Armagh game on Sunday. I don’t think I’ll be able to see any of it, but I’ll be trying to stay with it on the phone once the boss doesn’t see me!
“I think there are around six or seven of last year’s squad still minor this year, and having the confidence of winning last year is a major thing.
“I saw the new ad that Electric Ireland have for the minor championships and it’s spot-on really, it does tell you a lot about yourself and there’s no doubting that it is a major, rather than a minor, thing.”
Mayo go into the Cork game as favourites, but there are no fears of taking the Rebels for granted.
“With this Mayo team, I don’t think anybody is complacent,” Diarmuid says.
“The challenge is playing to the best level that we can, no matter who we’re playing.”
Interview with Denis Hurley.