It should have been the biggest sporting day of their young careers.
The chance to play on County final day ahead of the Senior final, to a packed house and a partisan crowd. The colour and spectacle and fevered anticipation should have been something to remember for the rest of their days.
Come Sunday the Louth minor championship final will eventually take place in the Gaelic Grounds in Drogheda at 2pm. It’s hard to see it as anything but an anticlimax however.
For nearly two months the off-field issues concerning the result of the semi final between O’Connell’s/St Joseph’s/Stabannon and Clan Na Gael rumbled on.
Appeal and counter appeal muddied the waters further and delayed the final.
The weight of a single point has never felt so heavy.
Yet there is a hope and a belief that the final between the Mid-Louth Combination side and their Drogheda opponents Oliver Plunketts will be remembered for the right reasons on Sunday.
Sure, as the crowd file into the Gaelic Grounds it will be hard to shake off the feeling of what could have been, but there will still be a minor championship to fight for, and neither side will lose sight of that as they prepare for the clash that afternoon.
Throughout the delay one team in particular has had to watch anxiously from the sidelines. Waiting and waiting.
As the Mid-Louth combination manager Pat Kiernan said last week “the real injured party in all of this is Oliver Plunketts.”
It’s a sentiment that Plunketts selector Michael Matthews grudgingly agrees with.
“It has been harder for us. We felt that the momentum was with us originally as we won the second semi final against St Mary’s and that was a surprise. But the delay has stalled that”, explained Matthews.
“For the original final we organised to get players in place for it, but since then we’ve lost some players and we’re not sure if we’ll get them back for Sunday.”
As the weeks passed, motivation was always going to be a worry, but Matthews was delighted when the date was finally set.
“To be honest when the fixture was announced last week, we had a goal to work towards again and that got the lads going.”
Does he feel that the glamour and importance of the final has been diminished for his team?
“To a certain extent the goodness has gone out of it. But I feel the delay has effected the adults more than the kids. The lads just want to get out and play and now they’ll get the chance to do that now.”
Being the underdogs on Sunday is no surprise to Matthews.
“If you had said to me at the start of the year that we’d be in the minor final I wouldn’t have believed you.
“But we’ll go out and give it our best shot on Sunday”, stated the Plunketts selector.
The Mid-Louth Combination team have been anything but idle. Between the senior O’Connell’s side progressing in the Leinster Championship and the Joes Junior team winning the junior title it has been almost non-stop for many of Pat Kiernan’s charges. All welcome distractions from the minor debacle.
“It was great that the O’Connell’s lads could concentrate on the intermediate championship, explained,” Kiernan. “And the league as well, it took their minds off the whole thing.
“To be honest some of the lads did get a bit despondent. But once they saw how big the Intermediate final was it made them hungry to repeat it at minor level.”
The most important thing for Kiernan was to put a date in the diary for the final and work towards it.
“We had a week or two off there but we trained the minor lads with the senior team on Wednesday and that blew the cobwebs away completely.
“I was conscious that some of the lads were playing college football as well recently, so I didn’t put that much pressure on them. But from now until Sunday we’ll be flat out,” added the Combinations boss.
The benefits of interchanging the O’Connell’s minor players with the senior team has been a revelation this year, according to Kiernan.
“The senior O’Connell’s players have really enjoyed having the minor lads step up to that level, it has made them push their game on and likewise the minor lads have learned so much as well.”
Throughout the delay, how did Kiernan prepare the lads mentally and keep them motivated knowing that they won’t be playing on County final day?
“I simply said to them that Sunday will be their day in the sun. All eyes will be on them this time. They are the main attraction and have top billing.
“There was an early fear that the final could be played in Darver on a cold mid-week evening. But the county board have been great and we now have a minor final on Sunday”, stated Kiernan.
Subscribe or register today to discover more from DonegalLive.ie
Buy the e-paper of the Donegal Democrat, Donegal People's Press, Donegal Post and Inish Times here for instant access to Donegal's premier news titles.
Keep up with the latest news from Donegal with our daily newsletter featuring the most important stories of the day delivered to your inbox every evening at 5pm.