Pádraig Walsh has been the name on many hurling fanatics’ minds after he burst onto the Kilkenny senior scene at the start of the season. The 22 year-old may not have had much success at Under-21 level but he proved his worth when he blossomed during this year’s league campaign, which Kilkenny eventually won.
The Tullaroan man is also a former University of Limerick student, having graduated from his English and History course at the end of the last academic year. For him, balancing college life and hurling commitments was never an issue, especially with the support from both sides. “I never had any hassle with the Kilkenny management. If I wasn't able come to training due to college commitments, they always made sure I put education first.” The sporting facilities drew Pádraig, like many other inter-county hurlers, to the university. “For anyone into their sport, it's just the perfect college because of its facilities such as the gym and the astro-turf pitches.”
The Kilkenny star enjoyed his time at college immensely and loved the fact that hurling was an ideal break away from college. While some players might find juggling the two a hassle, Pádraig thrived on it, stating that it kept him fresh and focused. “I felt having a sport to fall back on was essential just to give the head a break and to keep me fresh.” One element of college life that particularly interested Pádraig was, of course, hurling with U.L. and getting an opportunity to play alongside players from other counties. He even admitted that it drove him on and made him more “competitive” when he would, once again, come up against his U.L. team-mates. “I suppose it was very fascinating to see what way lads prepared and looked after themselves and to see the differences and similarities in what we did in Kilkenny”.
The wing-back position that Pádraig has enjoyed over the past season with Kilkenny had, up until the point of his arrival, been occupied by a similar star, his older brother Tommy. One could not witness Pádraig during a match without drawing parallels with his brother. His aerial dominance and point-scoring ability are traits we are used to seeing in Tommy Walsh. So how does the younger Walsh feel about the comparisons? “Ah well like that's always going to happen just because we are brothers. I've seen brothers that hurl completely differently but people say they're similar just because they are brothers so I don't really pay much attention to it.” He added that the main focus in Kilkenny is to ensure the best possible team performance, regardless of who plays in what position. “We always judge ourselves collectively and do what we can for the panel.”
There is always a strange mood in Croke Park following a draw in such a highly anticipated clash. Nothing lost, nothing gained and that mood was reflected in the Kilkenny dressing room following the draw after the epic All Ireland final between Tipperary and the Cats. “Ah it was strange alright after such a big build up. There was disappointment that we didn't win but relief that we didn't lose.” In the Kilkenny squad, the mind was quickly refocused and tuned into preparation for the eagerly awaited replay.
Whatever Kilkenny lacked in the drawn match was not missing from their performance during the replay. They doubled their intensity and work-rate. Their hunger was evident from the minute the whistle blew. Kilkenny were not going to let the Liam McCarthy slip between their fingers. After losing out on a place in the drawn match, Pádraig was brought in for the replay and justified that change in a spectacular fashion. Not only did he perform his man-marking duties to the highest standard but he also chipped in with a point and was the man-of-the-match for many people. There was no chance he was going to admit to any of that though. “Tipp are a serious team and we needed to work harder if we wanted to beat them. That's what we did and thank god it worked for us on the day.”
When questioned about Brian Cody and his success with the Kilkenny team, Pádraig doesn’t only praise the commitment of Brian but that of the entire management team. “It's just great training under Brian as well as James, Mick and Derek because they are hugely committed men and they give 100% all year round. They're just great motivators and very positive men, they love hurling and are passionate about the game which passes on to the players.”
You could forgive such players for becoming wearisome with the game when they play with county, club, not to mention people chatting to them on the street about hurling, but for Pádraig, he is grateful to be playing and would never take it for granted. “My family lives and breathes hurling, we just love it. You only get so many years to hurl in your life so I'll enjoy it while I can.”
Now that Pádraig is finished in UL, he is looking to his future. In order to pursue his wish to become a primary school teacher, Padraig has returned to the books to study Irish. No matter what he decides to do, you can guarantee that this passionate hurler will have his love of the sport at the fore of his mind.
If you know someone like Pádraig who’s in or had recently graduated from college, email the sports editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. We at campus.ie want to hear the stories from you and your college!