Conor Whelan explains what All-Ireland hurling final week was like for an inexperienced 18-year-old
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Conor Whelan was just 18 years of age when he was first called onto the Galway senior hurling panel.
Initially, the Kinvara sharpshooter turned down Anthony Cunningham's call but Cunningham was persistent, and when he called again four months later, just before the 2015 All-Ireland quarter final, Whelan said why not.
It turned out to be an inspired call from the Galway manager.
Still just eighteen, Whelan dazzled on his debut against Cork, hitting 1-2 in Semple Stadium.
He was very slight at the time but his skills were lethal, and he posed Tipperary and Kilkenny plenty of problems in the weeks that followed in that year's All-Ireland semi-final and final, scoring 0-2 from play in both games.
Speaking on The GAA Hour ahead of this weekend's All-Ireland senior hurling final, Whelan reflected on that year as a whole, and the madness of All-Ireland hurling final week for one so young.
"Anthony asked me in around November/December and I just didn't, it would have been too hard to handle at the time so I left it off, then he asked me again in March or April - which is crazy when you think about it now," Whelan says.
"They had a game or two played in the Leinster championship at that time - I was hurling with the club and went well in the club scene - I headed down training with Colm Callanan, didn't really have a notion what I was at, but it snowballed from there," he recalls.
"We played a challenge amongst ourselves in Thurles, the week before the Cork game, the quarter final - and I scored a few goals - then all of a sudden, I was making my debut. Sure I didn't have a clue really like. I was only 18, first year in college, tipping along.
"That night after the quarter final like, I was out in Loughrea with the boys, even though all the time was in Galway. We beat Tipp then in the semi-final, then we were in the final."
Whelan says that being a part of the Galway team was something of a shock to the system at that stage, and that he remained outside of the bubble on All-Ireland final week.
"It was mad, you had people ringing you for tickets, and I didn't know anything about it - I didn't have a clue like. I was literally just playing," he recalls.
"There was massive belief in Galway, people getting very excited, there were journalists ringing my parents, that was something we hadn't planned for.
"It didn't affect me too much because I was so far out of that bubble, I was kind of like, what are all these people getting so excited about really?"
"When you're in the parade, you're thinking, there's nowhere else I'd rather be.
"I was blessed that they took the chance on me that year. You just couldn't believe what was going on. You hadn't time to process it, which was nearly better for you. It was literally, I've got this chance, this is magic, let's just roll with it and see where this finishes up. But that's just sport."
"It's only as time goes on you realise how hard it is to get to finals, and how hard it is to win them."
"At the time, you don't even realise how hard it was to get there - I wouldn't have even known all of the lads that well really even though I was playing with them. We could have won the final, I still look back on it, but it was a mad story, kind of thinking, 'how did you end up here?"