The former Dublin minor star that led Ireland to Grand Slam glory 3 months ago

The former Dublin minor star that led Ireland to Grand Slam glory

"I think I had that in my head from around third class as well!"

David Hawkshaw played minor hurling for Dublin at Croke Park but his sights were always set on playing rugby for Leinster and Ireland.

There is a photo in the extensive Sportsfile back catalogue that sums up the Hawkshaw family. Taken by Tomás Greally on St Patrick's Day in 2007, it features a seven-year-old David Hawkshaw running with his mum, Ann at a four-mile race at Phoenix Park. Sport and the Hawkshaws go hand-in-hand.

Ann and Sean both played a bit of badminton for years, with Ann playing camogie for Limerick before she headed up to Dublin. Of the Hawkshaw children, James (the eldest) plays rugby for Clontarf, Sarah is a member of Ireland's senior women's hockey squad and Daniel (the youngest) was on the Belvedere College Senior Cup team this year.

Back in November 2019, the family were circling July 2020 as the date for as many of them as possible to get over to Japan for the Olympics. Sarah had helped Ireland to qualify for Tokyo 2020 and the family were delighted for their Olympian-in-waiting. Hawkshaw comments:

"They were gearing up for it. I think a day or two days before lockdown, they were meant to be going to South Africa for two weeks, just for games and stuff like that, and then everything stopped. At least they have something to aim for next year. Obviously it’s tough on a lot of them as a lot of them were putting in a ridiculous amount of work over the last 12 years for this. Sarah only recently joined, about two years now. They’re only starting back so it’s weird, as they would have been in Tokyo, and they’re now backing in Abbotstown. It’s a bit different but you just have to adapt with it, and they have another year, now, to get ready."

Sarah Hawkshaw in action during Ireland's Olympics qualifier against Canada. (Credit: Sportsfile)

Hawkshaw's experience, during lockdown, will strike a familiar tone with many - The Last Dance, Zoom calls, Come Dine With Me competitions and keeping fit out the back garden. He had missed a large chunk of the season with a serious knee injury [Lateral Cruciate Ligament] so was on a modified training routine to the rest of the Leinster academy players.

Such is the faith that Leinster have in Hawkshaw - a centre who can play outhalf - that they moved him into year three of their academy ahead of what will prove a crucial 2020/21. For the Castleknock native, he is right where he wants to be, even if there was a fun detour with the Dublin minor hurling team along the way.

Hawkshaw was part of St Brigid's GAA from the age of four and such was his talent that he played U13 and U14 for Dublin before going into the minor panel in 2016.

"I’ve been lucky enough that I have played at Croke Park a couple of times," he says. "It’s a special place and it’s crazy to be able to play there. The history in that place is unbelievable. The Leinster Final, you wouldn’t have them often so they are special days, being able to win. Then you look at the other side, and we lost to Limerick then in an All-Ireland semi and it wasn’t the nicest place in the world after that! But it was absolutely incredible to be able to play there."

Cian Magnier-Flynn of Limerick in action against David Hawkshaw (yellow and red helmet) and Eóin Foley of Dublin during the Electric Ireland GAA Hurling All-Ireland Minor Championship Semi-Final in 2016. (Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile)

Of all the teams to prevent the Dubs from reaching the final, it had to be his mum's home county too.

"Ah, stop," he says. "She was shocking, to be honest with you!

"I remember the night before, she was walking around in her Limerick jersey. She has a big Limerick flag for when they’re doing well. She had that going around for the week. And after they beat us, she put the Limerick flag in my room and out my window. Because when Limerick get to an All-Ireland final, she would have always put it out the window. So, she was good at rubbing it in the wounds!"

He was able to juggle hurling and rugby, along with his school work, up until he was 17 and rugby came into focus. By that stage he had already won the Leinster Senior Schools Cup with Belvedere College and was seeking to make it a double. It was everything he had hoped for from the age on nine.

"When I was in second class," he recalls, "my brother was playing a Junior Cup with Belvedere. That was my first time in Donnybrook and my first time seeing the whole cup side of things.

"Straight away, after watching that, I was sitting at home with my mum, talking about it. The buzz and the atmosphere, and that was for a Junior Cup game. I think I had that in my head from around third class as well! I really wanted to play in that, and how many years it would take to play in that."

David HawkshawDavid Hawkshaw celebrates Belvedere College's victory in the 2016 Leinster Schools Senior Cup Final. (Credit: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE)

Playing as an outhalf, he was in the Junior Cup squad from second year and the senior squad from transition year. Hawkshaw notes how the school had a professional set-up when it came to its' rugby programme and he praises Steven Gibbons and his former coach Phil Werahiko for investing so much into him as a player and as a person.

Belvedere won the Senior Cup in 2016 and 2017. The treble was on in 2018 but Blackrock College avenged their final loss from the previous year and Hawkshaw's highly successful schools career ended on a losing note. There was little time to dwell on that, however, as he was straight into it with Ireland and the focus was already on the 2019 Six Nations.

In a squad containing Charlie Ryan, Josh Wycherley, Harry Byrne and Craig Casey, Noel McNamara selected Hawkshaw - now shifted to inside centre - as his captain. First up would be an England side that included bright prospects Fraser Dingwall, Ted Hill and Marcus Smith. Hawkshaw recalls:

"We were playing England in the first game, and they would have had players that were playing at senior level and a few of them have now been capped for England. So if you were looking at the papers it would have been a write-off. I remember Craig Casey being a bit annoyed after that. People asking him, what’s it going to be like to play against England. He was sick of people asking that question as he believed we could match them."

Ireland trailed England 14-3 coming up to the half-hour mark but would go on to win 35-27. Away wins followed against Scotland and Italy, with Hawkshaw getting the exclamation point with a late try against the Azzurri.

David Hawkshaw prepares to lead out his Ireland U20 team in February 2019. (Credit: Sportsfile)

He badly injured his knee in training before his side went out, two days later, and clinched the championship against France. By the time Ireland beat Wales to claim the Grand Slam, their captain knew he would be missing the World Rugby U20 Championships too.

The road back from injury has been long and gruelling but Hawkshaw is seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Hawkshaw and Leinster flanker Dan Leavy have been rehabbing their respective knee injuries together, and supporting each other all the way.

"I've been lucky enough to have Dan alongside me for pretty much the whole thing. The two of us would have had similar enough injuries and it was absolutely brilliant to have Dan there to bounce stuff off. You had someone there the whole time, who was going through something similar. Even though I was an academy player, he'd be straight over and chatting to me like we knew each other for ages. He was brilliant and even in lockdown, he'd be staying in contact and seeing how I was getting on. Having him there, on that journey, was a massive boost for me. He's tearing it up now, which is great to see, and he has put in a ridiculous amount of work to get there."

Leinster Bath

Hawkshaw will meet up with all the coaching staff and players from the academy on Monday, for the first time in four months. There won't be an immediate return to the field, but it is not far off.

"Everything seems to be going well," he says. "I had a really good few months, during lockdown, where I could get a lot done with it. That was brilliant. So hopefully I’ll be back doing running again. Hopefully, in a few weeks or a month, I’ll be back doing training, and stuff like that."

What of the hurling, though? It would be a shame to put such talents away for good, even if most of the focus is on rugby.

"The great thing about the GAA is you're always part of the club and part of that community," he says. "My brother would still play the odd bit, so you do get the hurls out occasionally. It's something I'll always follow."

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