One of last year’s minors recalls his All-Ireland day
WHEN you’re a young lad going up to Croke Park as a fan all you ever want to do is play there. You see all your heroes playing and you really want to follow them. I’ve been there countless times as a supporter over the years, watching Mayo, Kerry, and other games. It really is a great place to be.
You’d feel a certain envy of players that do play there so when your chance comes around it is wonderful. It’s the dream for any young player. You’re nervous because it’s something you’ve been longing for but it’s a nice kind of nervousness.
Playing there as a minor is a little different than playing at senior level. As minors you’re playing in the first game and the crowd only really start to come in during the second half. So at the start of the match you might see a lot of empty seats but, by the end, it can be an entirely different atmosphere.
But it’s a magnificent opportunity to play in front of such a crowd. It is certainly something that you should enjoy. Players should revel in it because there is no pitch in Ireland like it. The sheer size and space of it is different. Everything about it is magical, you want to play there all the time.
LAST year’s drawn semi-final against Kerry was my first Croke Park experience. You could tell it was our first time playing there. There was a bit of nervous energy about us and on a personal level I didn’t perform to my best. But it was a massive experience, to finally get to play in Croke Park after dreaming about it for so long. It is something you will always remember, the first day you got to play in Croke Park.
This year’s minors will benefit hugely too from having got their first game in Croke Park out of the way because it can be a bit of an obstacle.
For the final last year we got a Garda escort in from the Louis Fitzgerald Hotel beside the Red Cow roundabout and it was surreal coming through Dublin with the crowds and a massive Tyrone support because they were in both finals. It was nice to see Mayo fans too, it was reassuring.
Going in on the bus we had a routine after the semi-final. I would have set beside Cathal Freeman - ‘Birdie’ - because we had done that all year round so we were keeping a bit of routine. I was listening to a bit of music on the way in, it would have been Right Here, Right Now by Fat Boy Slim that day, other lads liked to chat. Some guys like to be quiet. I like to float in and out of conversations. I like to be on my own at times as well.
There was a much bigger crowd for our game, especially the second half, than for the semi-final. It was nearly full fifteen minutes into the second half. It was surreal. I remember hitting that point with ten minutes to go [to put Mayo in front] and I’ll never forget that feeling, it was unbelievable. The crowd just erupted. It was class! Those are the moments that are special.
OVERALL, the lads really should enjoy it. The surroundings probably make the pitch feel bigger than it actually is. I think the pitch isn’t actually as wide as people think. You can see that when Cian Ward from Meath hits sideline balls over the bar all the time.
The run-up to the game can be mad if you allow it to be. You try to shy away from the people you don’t really want to talk to and then there’s a few people you do want to talk to, like your parents or a few friends. Don’t indulge in mad conversations about the game.
The game won’t be played until 1.30pm on the Sunday. Don’t be thinking about it too much. Just keep the routine. Same as any game. It is another game. It might be played in Croke Park on the biggest day in the GAA calendar but it is just a game and you can talk about winning All-Irelands afterwards.
Aidan O’Shea was centre-half forward on last year’s Mayo Minor team who lost the All-Ireland final after a replay. He was in conversation with Edwin McGreal.