Around this time of year, the sports pages of the land tend to be dominated by talk of ‘nine months’ hard training’ from inter-county hurlers and footballers.

Sunday’s clash at Croke Park will earn either Waterford or Tipperary a further day out and the opportunity of achieving the ultimate hurling reward.

When you think about it, Leaving Certificate students operate in a similar timeframe to inter-county players.

While the efforts of previous years also come into play, what’s achieved and accomplished in the dark nights of the previous winter play an enormous role when it comes to achieving the desired summer result.

Sat at that study hall desk, sometimes feeling like one is chained to it can prove to be laborious, mind-numbing and draining to body and soul.

A little like a committed player in Vegas, daylight tends to become a distant memory to the firmly focused Leaving Certificate student.

The interior of the Liverfluke become better known to those taking biology than the back of the very hand turning the pages of one’s textbook.

The differing German army groups despatched into Russia and what became of them become so well-known to history students that Marshall Zhukov’s defeat of the Nazis at Stalingrad could have taken place down the road last Tuesday.

And as for King Lear’s outing of vile jelly or Othello’s descent from noble solider to wife slayer?

The re-reading of Shakespearean text becomes second nature when it comes to the English exam, leaving one wondering why it is ‘Fair City’ never reaches such well-written dramatic heights.

For 10 long, intensive months leading up to the June exams, study takes over the life of the committed student. For such a person, nothing exists beyond the opening of the envelope which contains those potentially magical grades.

That’s why today is, literally, the beginning of the rest of a young adult’s life. For many, the next three to four years will be mapped out by the totting up of the A2s, B1s and so on.

For others, the disappointment at not achieving the points one had hoped for will feel like a crushing descent into despair, but that’s where friends, siblings and parents play a major role.

A consoling arm around the shoulder may not automatically resonate with the disillusioned recipient.

But in a few days from now, when the sickening feeling has lifted from the gut, gratitude will be expressed and thoughts about the future will once again be had.

There will never be a perfect exam system which meets with everyone’s satisfaction, but, it has to be said, that the Leaving Cert continues to fulfil its primary objective very well.

Over the next few days, the media will again lazily focus on those remarkable teenagers who achieved eight A1s, while ignoring those who’ve busted their academic posteriors to succeed against the socio-economic odds.

We all face challenges in life similar to what Ken McGrath and co are now just days away from – it just so happens we mightn’t have 60,000 people onlooking while doing so.

Reaching inside one’s self, pushing yourself to the limit and doing all that one can to achieve the ultimate goal is all that anyone can expect of themselves.

And if that’s got Leaving Cert students lifting their personal Liam McCarthy cup today around the region, congratulations. The hard training put in since last September, and well before that in fact, has been well and truly worth it.

* For students and parents alike, this week’s 24-page ‘College 2008′ supplement is well worth a perusal, with plenty of opinion and advice on what lies ahead for those about to enter third-level life.