Lorcán and Oisín McWilliams – Our Journey to Croke Park
The 2017 Electric Ireland GAA Minor Football Championship delivered lots of entertaining moments, and plenty of highs and lows. For two Derry Minor footballers, it is certainly a championship that will be long remembered ...
Lorcán and Oisín McWilliams, two brothers from Swatragh GAA club in Derry, both played important roles in the county’s journey to the Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Football final. We recently caught up with the pair to reflect on their journey to Croke Park, and a memorable 2017.
The Twin Connection
The GAA community is like one big family, but it’s an extra special experience for both Lorcán and Oisín to line out alongside one another as brothers (and twins). Oisín explains, “It’s extra special playing with your brother. As we are twins, we have played together for such a long time that there seems to be a natural understanding between us. I know when and where he will run so I tend to be looking for him.”
The positions that Oisín (midfield) and Lorcán (full forward) play mean that they are regularly linking up with one another.
Lorcán and Oisín both represent the Swatragh club in Derry, and both players recognise the pride of representing their club when they pull on the Derry jersey.
“It’s a great honour to play for Derry, particularly coming from a small club like ours [Swatragh],” explains Lorcán.
Oisín adds, “It’s a proud moment as our club [Swatragh] is a small one and there have only been a few players to represent the county.”
Building from a Disappointing 2016 Campaign
This was the second year that both Lorcán and Oisín were selected in the Derry Minor panel, with both players being involved in last year’s campaign, one that was filled with ups and downs. Oisín appeared in all four games for Derry in the 2016 Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Football Championship as Derry exited at the quarter-final stage and suffered defeat to Donegal in the Ulster Final.
It was a particularly disappointing year for Lorcán who injured his cruciate in a club game midway through the campaign. This disappointment certainly spurred the guys on for this year’s campaign, one which saw them take on Minor League Champions Tyrone in the first round. Derry defeated Tyrone by a point in Celtic Park in front of their home support.
“We thought that if we beat Tyrone we could get to Croke Park,” says Oisín. “The support from the home crowd was fantastic and the atmosphere was very tense. It was very similar to the year before when we also played Tyrone in Celtic Park in front of our home crowd in the opening match and that experience probably helped us.” Lorcán adds, “it was a very close game so to win it was great. To win in front of our home crowd made it even more special.”
The Electric Ireland Ulster GAA Minor Football Championship Final
Having overcome the challenge of league champions Tyrone, Derry managed to navigate their way past Antrim in the semi-final to set up an Ulster Final date with Cavan. The guys were relieved to get back to another Ulster Final, and the disappointment of the 2016 final certainly seemed to add extra motivation to Lorcán, Oisín and the rest of the Derry Minor team as they defeated Cavan by seven points (1-22 to 2-12).
The final was a special moment for Lorcán in particular, as he missed last year’s final through injury. “I missed the Ulster Final in 2016 through injury, so it was great to get to play in the Electric Ireland Ulster Minor Final at Clones this year. The game was very tough and I hurt my hamstring at the start which made it even tougher, but I was determined to stay on and I was really happy to win the game, and of course, be the Electric Ireland GAA Ulster Minor Football Champions for 2017” said Lorcán.
Image courtesy of Mary K Burke
Defeating Dublin and Silencing Hill 16
The victory over Cavan set up a quarter-final date with Sligo, before a semi-final in Croke Park against Dublin. These matches certainly proved to be memorable occasions for both players.
“Sligo was probably our toughest match of the year in the run up to the All-Ireland Final. We were lucky to win by a point in the end, but it set us up for the semi-final against Dublin,” says Oisín.
“There was an unbelievable atmosphere in Croke Park when we played Dublin, particularly the last 10 minutes. It was a draw and by that stage Hill 16 was full and we were playing into it. To then go on and win by 3 points was an unforgettable experience. The support we had was incredible.”
Lorcán missed the Sligo game due to injury but returned for the memorable victory over Dublin which secured a place for Derry in the 2017 Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Football Final. Lorcán says, “To defeat Dublin in Croke Park was easily the highlight of the year. The atmosphere was electric and it was just great to be there and be part of it.”
The Highs and Lows of All-Ireland Final Day
The victory over Dublin set up an All-Ireland Final against Kerry, the reigning holders who were going for an unprecedented fourth successive All-Ireland Minor Football Championship. In the end, it wasn’t to be for Derry when a David Clifford-inspired Kerry team won their fourth All-Ireland Minor title in a row and created history. Despite the result, it was a special day for the McWilliams brothers, who both played a big part in Derry’s run to their first All-Ireland Minor Football Final in a decade.
Lorcán discussed the surreal feeling of running out at Croke Park on All-Ireland Final Day: “It’s what every young boy dreams off. I was there with Oisín 10 years ago watching when Derry last got to the All-Ireland Minor Football Final and we never imagined that that would be us one day.”
Oisín added, “I never thought that I’d ever experience walking out at Croke Park on All-Ireland Final Day. I just felt privileged to be there. I tried to focus on taking it all in and enjoying every moment.”
While the final didn’t go the way that Derry would have liked, the 2017 campaign certainly delivered plenty of memories for the brothers.
Highlights of the boys’ journey to Croke Park
“My best memory was the craic and comradery of the team. As for the games, the high point was definitely beating Dublin in Croke Park and winning the Ulster Championship,” says Oisín.
For Lorcán, it was all about learning from each game. “The big thing from the campaign was learning to take each game as it comes and not get too distracted or carried away with the hype.”
Both Lorcán and Oisín came up against many talented Minor Stars on their journey to Croke Park, but two players in particular stood out for both: David Clifford (Kerry) and Oisín Pierson (Cavan).
“Obviously, David Clifford from Kerry was impressive in the All-Ireland Final, but in Ulster I thought Oisín Pierson from Cavan was very impressive this year,” says Oisín.
The 2017 Electric Ireland Minor Star Team of the Year
Lorcán and Oisín were joined by two Derry teammates (Conor McCluskey and Padraig McGrogan) in being named in the inaugural Electric Ireland Minor Stars Football Team of the Year, something the pair were delighted to achieve.
Oisín says, “it’s a massive honour as there are so many talented minor footballers and hurlers. Being recognised in the best 15 in your sport at your age is extra special.” Lorcán adds, “it means a lot to the footballers and hurlers who were recognised as it is a great reward for their hard work and dedication.”
The Minor Star Awards selection panel included Armagh GAA legend Oisín McConville, and achieving the recognition of former stars like Oisín didn’t go unnoticed by the pair. “It is great to get recognition for all the hard work and even better when it comes from people who have played and succeeded at the very top. It helps you realise how important Minor football is, and how much enjoyment people get from watching Minor games," says Lorcan.
A Big Thank You to Friends and Family
The Electric Ireland GAA All-Ireland Minor Football and Hurling Championships is a major milestone for Minor Stars across the country, and friends and family play such a big part in the minor journey. Oisín highlighted the support of friends from both school and the Swatragh club, but the big support for the twins has come from their parents, Mary and Sean McWilliams.
“They have supported us from the start with dad coaching us right through from under 6s with our club (Swatragh). They have been very important when things went wrong and are always there to help us” explained Oisín.
Lorcán added, “Mum and dad deserve a lot of credit. Mum, for getting us up for all the early morning training sessions and dad, who has been coaching us from the very start of our GAA journey.”
When it comes to future targets, the pair are yet again in agreement on their aspirations for school, club and county. The MacRory Cup in particular is a big focus for the pair over the coming months.
“We’ve just started training for the MacRory Cup competition with our school, St Patrick’s College, Maghera, and that is the main focus. After that, hopefully it’s on to university and the next step in our journey.”
As for Derry and Swatragh, the goals are simple, with Lorcán explaining, “it would be great to win the Derry Senior Club Championship with Swatragh for the first time, and with Derry our target is to break into the Derry senior panel in the future.”
My Favourite Thing About Minor Football Is…
Lastly, the guys shared their favourite things about being a minor footballer for both club and county.
“For Derry I have really enjoyed the atmosphere and the bigger crowds at the games and getting to play against the top minor footballers in the country. With Swatragh it’s great to play with the friends we have played with from a young age,” says Oisín.
Lorcán adds, ”With Derry it’s the opportunity to test yourself at the highest level, and with Swatragh the best thing about minor football is playing with my childhood friends.”
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