It’s difficult to believe but by the time Pádraig Walsh won his first senior club championship proper game with Tullaroan, he already had two All-Ireland medals with Kilkenny to his name.
[timgcap= Tullaroan and Kilkenny Hurler Pádraig Walsh is pictured ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Championship Final where they face Fr. O'Neills of Cork on Saturday January 18th at Croke Park.. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile.]PadraigWalshTullaroanAIBClubChampionships_large.jpg[/timgcao]
Allow him to explain: “We were winning only one or two games a year. And one was a relegation final. I played from 2009 and I think the first year I got a Championship win was 2016.
"We just didn’t have the numbers. With the recession, we lost a lot of lads to Australia, England, America. It really hit us hard.
“When we went down intermediate, it probably gave us a chance to build again. We had a good young team coming through. And we started winning games. So over the last few years, we started winning games. And it was the most enjoyable hurling we ever had.”
That much was evident by the joyous embrace and dance Walsh’s older brother Tommy and father Mickey enjoyed soon after the final whistle in their county intermediate final win over Thomastown in October.
Mickey had four sons on the team, Martin and Shane as well as Pádraig and Tommy. “We were too far away!” laughs Walsh about the moment. “Well, that’s his (Mickey’s) excuse anyway. Said he was close to Tommy. Look, he feels bad for it now. We said, ‘Why didn’t you come to the rest of us?’ It’s a lovely video to have. It’s a nice one to look back on.”
Nothing, not even Walsh’s two All-Ireland final wins with Kilkenny, compared to that full-time sensation. “That game was the most emotional match I’ve ever been involved in. When that final whistle went … I’d never experienced anything like it. I think it’s just because it’s your parish. It’s the lads you grew up with.
“It meant so much to everyone. You should have seen the support afterwards, everyone just sprinting on to the field. I don’t even know if they were let on to it! But they managed to get on to it anyway.
"Because the other two teams were out warming up and trying to get us off.”
Tullaroan haven’t looked back since, claiming a Leinster title with a final win over Seir Kieran before beating Naomh Éanna in their All-Ireland semi-final. “We’ve probably relaxed a bit more,” feels Walsh. “We’ve probably started to enjoy our hurling. There’s not as much pressure.
“Everyone’s really enjoying getting on the road. But you want to win it as well. We’ve gotten this far — it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for us. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back here again with the club. We need to make the most of it.”
Storm Brendan on Monday put paid to the bunting put up around the village but it’s back up and nothing is wiping the smiles off the locals’ faces. Walsh missed out on Kilkenny and All-Star trips to New York, Dubai, and Florida in recent weeks but he’s not complaining as he sets eyes on Fr O’Neill’s on Saturday.
“You know some of the players, Declan Dalton and they’d have a few lads on the Cork U20s all right, and involved in Imokilly.
“We know they are very strong. They are the team we heard of since the time we won the county final.”