It’s only a matter of hours until Clare and Tipperary cross swords in the Munster Minor Hurling Championship. Ahead of the game, The Clare Herald’s Páraic McMahon looks at how the Minor grade has shaped the inter-county career of recent stars from both counties.
In hurling terms; the Minor championship can be described as the nursery of inter-county hurling. It is where future stars first get a taste of the inter-county scene and simultaneously for many spectators it is the first time these shining stars suddenly come to light. Subsequent development continues at the U21 grade before the young starlets take their place in the Senior ranks.
When Clare and Tipperary clashed in the 2010 Minor Hurling Play/Off, few patrons would have predicted that eighteen of the thirty starting players would push on to the play Senior hurling with their County. This evening a test presents itself to the 2015 crop to see if there is glimpses of magic within that can be replicated on the big stage, the beauty of the Minor Championship is that those gathered get to see whether or not this test is passed or failed.
May 2010 saw Clare and Tipperary clash in a do or die Munster Minor Hurling Play/Off in Cusack Park. Just one point separated the sides in a tight, exciting contest in which the Banner prevailed 0-17 to 1-13. Despite having the better start it looked as if the home side would lose out on this occasion only for Tony Kelly to step forward and not for the first or last time the Ballyea man saved Clare’s blushes with a last-minute winning point.
This would ultimately be the catalyst in the creation of the County’s greatest underage team ever produced as they would go on to contest an All-Ireland final with Kilkenny but fall short by two points. However success didn’t elude that Clare bunch for long as they secured three U21 All-Ireland Hurling titles in succession while many picked up Celtic Crosses with the Senior squad in 2013. Indeed Clare trainer Paul Kinnerk traces back to this infamous minor clash as the start of the Clare hurling revolution.
One of the great success stories of the Minor Hurling Championship is that it prepares players for the next stages in their hurling careers. The current crop of Clare stars first caught the eye at the Minor grade when an exciting, fresh midfield partnership of Colm Galvin and Tony Kelly impressed all around. Along with the midfield duo, Pádraic Collins, Aaron Cunningham, Paul Flanagan, Cathal O’Connell, Davy O’Halloran, Jamie Shanahan and Stephen O’Halloran all featured in the one point win over the Premier and would later be recruited onto the Senior Hurling panel by Davy Fitzgerald.
Tipperary too continues to utilise the Minor grade in preparing young hurlers to tog out in big days for the Premier County. Cathal Barrett, Jason Forde, Niall O’Meara, Liam McGrath, Joe O’Dwyer, Liam Treacy, John Meagher and David Butler have all progressed to the Senior panel in recent years. While not all of the mentioned Tipp contingent has received regular starting roles, they’re constantly pushing for a coveted starting spot and their names will press on the mind of Eamon O’Shea and Michael Ryan in the coming weeks and months.
Such figures show the Minor Hurling Championship is a successful and proven breeding ground for aspiring hurlers to make their mark and look no further than 2014 Limerick Minor captain, Cian Lynch as the perfect example. After this evening’s clash in the Semple Stadium, new names will slide off the lips of spectators when they discuss the future of Clare and Tipperary hurling is discussed, time will tell whether or not today’s minors make the step-up to Senior. Although the Minor grade is a proven conveyor belt for future County greats, it is worth highlighting that a number of players slip under the radar at Minor and fail to get County call-ups yet excel at Senior level years later.