This weekend Tyrone and Monaghan face off in the Electric Ireland GAA Ulster Minor Final in Armagh.
Since 1978 these two sides have played each other 7 times in the provincial final with Tyrone winning 6 of those meetings.
Involvement in the Minor championships creates a lifelong connection between people from across the GAA community so this week, we spoke with Castlederg’s Harry Brennan, who managed the Tyrone Minor team in 1978 to Ulster Championship victory against Monaghan over 40 years ago…
1.Having been involved in the 1978 Ulster Minor Final, what are the things that have stayed the same for the players involved?
“Nerves are definitely a major element in such a momentous occasion for these young lads. You have to prepare guys for the crowd and the atmosphere and pressure that will come and help them to remain calm in that environment.
It really is a big thing for a young fella to have the whole county, his neighbours, friends and schoolmates supporting them in the stands. In ’78 they looked forward to that big time, some of the lads were looking to the side-line during the game and you could feel their sense of awe in the occasion.
Those emotions don’t change in competitive sport and are something all minor teams have in common, regardless of when they played. It’s something none of them will have experienced before and it’s what makes the championships so special.”
2. From a player’s perspective what has changed, if anything, when it comes to preparation for a Minor Ulster Final?
“The conditioning element of the game is day and night. Whether it’s diet or weights training, the professionalism in the game has changed completely in many regards.
Things like development squads didn’t exist in ’78 and when it came to backroom teams, you were basically on your own without physios or coaches.”
3. Can you describe the connection you still feel to the Electric Ireland Minor Championship and what is it that maintains that connection?
“It’s the real first serious step for young people where they have a representative honour to play for and nothing has the same prestige up until that point.
“Because it was my first venture, the ‘78 squad maintains a very strong connection in my heart.
“The age in which these players experience these emotional highs and lows are incredibly formative. Those major moments aren’t easily forgotten, they are carried with us for ever.”
4. Tyrone and Monaghan have played each other in 3 of the last 7 Minor Ulster Finals. What are the two counties doing well and how does the school structure feed into that success?
“The school structure in Tyrone has been the envy of other counties for a long time. Obvious similarities are starting to develop in Monaghan, and it shows in their recent successes. It’s a much more level playing field.”
5. This is a Major moment for the young players ahead of this weekend, what is your parting advice, having managed in a Minor Final yourself, to the boys preparing for the Electric Ireland Minor Ulster Football Final?
“It’s not rocket science. This is football. Go out and really experience it, don’t let it pass you by. In terms of practical advice, get on the ball early, make as much regular contact with the ball as possible to ease yourself into the game and don’t leave anything on the field.”
It has been another dramatic journey through the Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Football Championship which culminates now in a Major moment for these young players as they focus and prepare for the Ulster Final.
To encourage the Major spirit of the Minor Championships, Electric Ireland will have a mobile barber on-site so that travelling spectators can get their own ‘Championship Haircut’ at the ground and celebrate this pre-game ritual. The final itself will take place in the Armagh Athletic Grounds on Sunday 14thJuly at 4pm.