O'DONOVAN Rossa club man Gordon Crowley played a key role in helping the Galway minor team land the All-Ireland hurling championship title recently.
Galway captured the Irish Press Cup for the 11th time after they defeated Cork by two points following a thrilling All-Ireland final showdown. Crowley, who works as an analyst with the minor hurlers, can pinpoint one significant moment when he knew they were destined for a successful year.
"There were lots of signs for the minors during the year from various challenge games and training sessions. A defining point for me, however, occurred in the first three high balls that Darren Morrissey won against Killkenny’s Adrian Mullen in the semi-final.
"Mullen was their key forward. It was captain against captain. Darren outplaying him early in the game was a real sign of intent.
"I know all the players took energy from him winning his personal battle," revealed the hurling enthusiast.
The Cork minor hurlers made the Tribe fight hard for their success. The Skibb native was very impressed with the Rebel side who displayed great character and skill throughout the season.
"This group of Cork players have been flagged from a long way out since their U14 to U17 development squads. I was part of the Galway U17 set-up that lost to Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final and I spent a lot of time studying Cork’s play from this year’s minor campaign."
There are serious senior county prospects in that panel he believes.
"Ger Collins appears to have a goalkeeping maturity beyond his years. He is a great shot stopper and has a real variety of puck-outs.
"Daire Connery from Na Piarsaigh is a dynamic player and a great striker of the ball.
"Brian Turnbull has great speed, touch and scoring ability. Any young players should look at how low to the ground he gets when collecting the ball."
Even hampered by an injury in the final against Galway he still scored 1-4 from play.
"Evan Sheehan was very unlucky with his injury for Cork’s All-Ireland campaign. I can definitely see his direct hard running troubling senior defenders in the future.
"Sean O’Leary Hayes is another player who appears to have the physical attributes and ability to play with his head up to make it."
Crowley is confident that the Cork minor players will continue their development which will ensure they enjoy success with the Rebels.
"Players develop at different rates and guys like Brian Roche and Ger Melerick may not stand out as much but they appear to be hard-working team players and can contribute to any U21 or senior team. The best recent example of this later development was Mark Coleman who spent most of his time on B development squads. He continued to work hard and proved a sensational senior this year.
"The key thing that I have learned by looking at the bigger picture over the last few years is that development is not linear.
"It is supported by the fact that since 1982 no Tony Forristal tournament winner has won the All-Ireland minor title four years later. Also, only five winners of the U16 tournament have gone to win the All-Ireland minor tournament two years later."
Since 1995, only five teams have won the U21 title three years after the minor hurling title.
"A minor victory or defeat is not a predictor of U21 or senior success. Any coach that is truly focused on player development knows that it is just the closing of one chapter in a player’s development path. History tells us that failure to capture a minor title is not a limitation to later success."
There were joyous celebrations in Galway following their stunning double success. It was also a very poignant time due to the recent passing of the late Tony Keady and Niall O'Donoghue.
"The scenes after the games in Croke Park were very special. There was lots of emotion on several levels, the end of the 29 year famine, the double with the minors, the recent passing of Tony Keady and the memory of Niall Donoughe.
"It was also very special for the minor panel to be allowed on the pitch after the game to celebrate with the seniors. The homecoming saw a real outpouring of joy. It was a very special occasion."
Crowley loves working as an analyst with the Galway minor hurling team, a role he has fulfilled with great professionalism over recent years since he was approached by his club colleague Jeffrey Lynskey to help him out.
"I had a previous role with the Galway U21 hurlers that won the All-Ireland in 2010. I had a similar role with the senior hurlers in 2012 and 2013 too.
"The minor manager, Jeff Lynskey asked me to join his backroom team and look after performance analysis in 2015. Obviously, we had a great first year by winning the minor title.
"Working with this group is very satisfying because the level of player engagement is superb and the coaches see the benefit of it. From a personal viewpoint, about 80% of the work can be done outside of the scheduled training sessions so it is easier to fit in around work and family schedules.
"I can be coding games or preparing videos on things like hooking technique or puck-outs from home which is ideal."