This Sunday, a dominant Kerry minor side travel to Croke Park in search of an extraordinary five-in-a-row of Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor titles. Standing in their way is the beaten finalists from 2016, Galway.
This year saw the reawakening of a former Gaelic football powerhouse as Galway stormed to an All-Ireland senior semi-final only to be felled by the juggernaut of Dublin. Sunday will confirm a crucial turnaround in the fortunes of both these age grades. In 2012, Galway's seniors were humiliated by Sligo in the Connacht Championship, the minors were dumped out in similar circumstances by Roscommon and their Under 21s crashed out in the preliminary round of Connacht.
A year later, Galway GAA made a decision that would reinvigorate the county's footballing tradition and kickstart a production line that drove them back into the reckoning.
The Tribesmen has always laid claim to the label of 'dual county.' The two sports are run by separate county boards. Then, a year after 2012's low point, the boards were replaced by football and hurling committees. There was an understanding that the only way to have two successful codes was to maximise every parish in the county. The north had dominated football, the south was home to hurlers, the end result was a dilution of quality. This needed to change.
Regional committees were established, the fruit of which is evident on the Galway minor team of today.
While Kerry have just two north-based players in the squad, an increase on last year's total of one, Galway's spread of players is far more diverse. Just four of that 2012 starting team came from outside of north Galway. Of the team that started the recent All-Ireland semi-final victory over Meath, that total stood at 10.
The team contains a host of players from clubs previously unfamiliar to the maroon and white. Barna, Clifden, Oughterard, Glenamaddy, An Cheathrú Rua all have their own representatives. The same can be said for the management, with An Spideal's Donal O’Fatharta plotting the downfall of the Kingdom come Sunday. Barna's Cosmos Gilmore is a selector.
A county united in one direction is much stronger than two halves pulling apart. 2012's low point was corrected soon after. By 2014, the county had an All-Ireland title at U21 and a minor Connacht title in their trophy cabinet. This year marked the minor's fourth provincial title in a row.
But success is not the end goal, merely a symptom of the overall approach. Too often minors fail to make the breakthrough and Galway have made moves to address that. As Manager O'Fatharta told Galway Daily earlier this summer, development is key.
This is what it is about. These guys will be learning. Hopefully, we want these guys playing U20s and senior for Galway. I think there is a couple of them that could do that and I hope to give them the tools to move on and play senior football.
It is important to appreciate this reality come Sunday. Galway did not win the Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland minor final in 2016, but Robert Finnerty and Desmond Conneely went on to play key roles in the U21 team that won a Connacht Under-21 title and made an All-Ireland final just a year later.
In fact, of the Galway senior side that made this year's last four, an astonishing nine starters played underage together at minor or U21.
Galway's minor journey this year has extraordinarily dramatic. They overcame Meath thanks to a stunning six-minute onslaught which saw them produce three goals and a point. What is even more impressive it two of those scorers, Oisin McCormack and Paul Kelly, didn't even play in the quarter-final. It is this same capricious attacking ability that makes the final a must-watch.
Galway GAA is alive and well currently and the origins of that process will be evident in Croke Park on Sunday. Not just 17-year-old athletes enjoying their passion, but a county united and eagerly anticipating a bright future.
Minor players are embarking on their adult lives. They have hopes, dreams, pressures, distractions and ambitions, but for this one moment in time, the Electric Ireland Minor Championships is the major thing in their lives. Follow the conversation at #GAAThisIsMajor
If you’re heading along to Croke Park this weekend make sure to get down early. Electric Ireland is highlighting the major significance of GAA players’ pre-game ritual, ‘The Championship Haircut’ by offering complimentary haircuts ahead of the Electric Ireland Minor Football Final from 11.30am on the Cusack Stand side of Croke Park on Sunday.