"Hurling is like a wardrobe, whatever you put into it you’ll get back out of it" - Life at St Kieran's
For Tommy Walsh, it was St Kieran's College or an unhappy student.
The famous hurling academy is a bit of a trek from Tullaroan, 15 kilometres into the city to be exact, but having seen the records and heard the stories, this hurler had his mind set.
"My mother wanted me to go to a different secondary school, but I was going to Kieran’s for the hurling and that was it..."
Since 1948, when Kieran's won their first Croke Cup, the school have been the dominant force in college's hurling and a glance inside the famous walls at any time between nine and four o'clock, will tell you exactly why.
Acres of green grass. Perfect. Fully lined pitches. Ideal. A thronged wall-ball. The norm.
The bell has rang on college's road and whether it's lunch-time or just a break in between classes, you will see them. The youngsters gather first, tapping the ball off school walls and contesting it on its way back down. They're on their way.
Then the green invasion, as noon quickly breaks into a rhythmic song of sliotar meeting hurley. Hurley meeting sliotar.
"The hurl comes around with us, wherever we go"
Discover the magic of @KieransCollege, Ireland's most prolific hurling nursery and a place where youngsters bring their schoolbags...and their hurleys 👏⚫️⚪️ pic.twitter.com/DROpaE5v8T
— SportsJOE (@SportsJOEdotie) March 29, 2019
Tommy Walsh - a nine-time All-Star and one of the great game's most respected and admired players, passed through the halls at Kieran's and speaking ahead of the Darkness Into Light Sunrise run, Walsh reminisced on the glory days. When some inspiring hurling people instilled an unquenchable love for the game into Walsh and his classmates.
"It was a great choice and then the teachers, I came across some great coaches," he begins.
The stories are fresh in the mind.
"Denis Philpott was a great Cork man and he used to say ‘follow the ball like you love it and hit it like you hate it’ because often in the big games people would run away from the ball. Pat Murphy was another guy, a great St Mullin’s and Carlow man. He used to say to us, ‘hurling is like a wardrobe, whatever put into it you’ll get back out of it. There was great coaches, Seamus Knox, a great Maths teacher and everyone that did Maths with Seamie Knox did well because he loved maths and he was able to inspire you. And that was a hard thing to do, but he was the same with the hurling, a brilliant coach too so Kieran’s was a massive influence on all of us. More than anything, it gave us a love of the game..."
"Take St Kieran’s College - If you’re part of a team, you’re training three times a week, an hour each training, that’s three hours a week. You go to St Kieran’s College, you hurl for 45 minutes before you go into school, you hurl for ten minutes during break-time, you hurl for 40 minutes before lunch-time and then you might get ten more minutes after school before the bus goes. You’re probably getting 2 or 3 hours extra per day if you’re going to St Kieran’s college. Now they’re blessed, they have the grounds, they have all the green area to play, they have the walls to play wall-ball..."
"It’s a great place. You love something when you do it well, and in Kieran’s, they do sport well. They have sport for everybody, you want to play soccer - Henry Shefflin scored the winning goal in a south east Leinster cup final when I was in school around the late 90s or middle 90s. They’ve soccer, they’ve running, they’ve athletics, they’ve all sports but hurling is the main one!"
That love for the game is still alive and well today, more than 20 years on from his secondary school years.
"Am I missing it? I'm missing the competitiveness of it. I miss going winning in a training session, losing in a training session, winning a match, losing a match. I'm at home every evening and we are hurling every evening for a couple of hours, taking sidelines, flicking the ball. We have a goal since I was a young lad out the back, we have a big garden to hurl away in..."
A big garden in Tullaroan, where a winter of contentedness followed a long-awaited All-Ireland intermediate triumph.
"They could feel the heartbreak because it's such a small place. In Tullaroan, our hurling field is the focus of everything.
"I remember one of the fellas, he's been playing with Tullaroan for maybe 25 years now at this stage. He just said, 'I can move on with my life now.'"
Senior hurling is back on the agenda again, whenever the Covid crisis fades and Walsh will be there. Still hungry. Still passionate.
"I see the youngsters...without these inter-county stars we'll have no youngsters because they are out pucking a ball every week, trying to be TJ Reid, trying to be Patrick Horgan, Seamus Callanan. They are their Ronaldos.
"Without them we won't have these young fellas coming through. So I would say it doesn't matter which comes first (club our county) let's look after both of them because I think both of them are important..."
Tommy Walsh. With hurling in the heart.