"He could just as handy be playing for the Laois footballers" 2 weeks ago

"He could just as handy be playing for the Laois footballers"

Rathdowney-Erril is no football stronghold but Paddy Purcell is a different breed.

One of the most talented men in Laois according to his club's secretary Ray Kelly. He could just as easy be playing for the Laois footballers.

And that was clear from a young age. During the primary school days in Erril National school, the tall and athletic Purcell was a step ahead and a first touch quicker than those around him.

For break-time games he was the first pick and no matter what sport it came to, he was usually the best in the class. There was only ever going to be one way about it though.

In south-west Laois, hurling is to youngsters what water is to ducks and Purcell was no different from the rest. Brought up with a stick in hand and on dreams of bringing the Laois hurlers back to the big dance, everybody around knew that he'd have a huge part to play in that.

"Ah Paddy was a super player growing up," says Kelly who hurled alongside Purcell for a couple of years.

"He was a big fella in primary school and he was something else to catch the ball. He was the same for Rathdowney-Erril, he was probably the best player in Laois from a very young age."

Expectations were high but Purcell had the mentality and he had the skills.

Our Lady's Templemore were onto a good one. Purcell travelled 20 minutes across the border for secondary school and the renowned mid-Tipp hurling nursery were blessed. He'd be some addition to their Harty Cup team.

He was making a name for himself by this stage and soon he was on the road to Dublin, where he studied agricultural science and hurled Fitzgibbon Cup with UCD.

Along with club-mate Ross King, the Rathdowney-Erril men represented Laois with distinction.

It was around then when Purcell first came into the Laois senior panel in the year 2013. Cheddar Plunkett was the manager at that time and he told us all about the honesty and dedication that Purcell brought to the Laois set-up.

"I can certainly say that he was a very valuable player during my time with Laois. A quiet, unassuming kind of guy, he's one of those lads who goes around the dressing room with no ego, and he was certainly a very well liked guy in the panel." 

Seamus 'Cheddar' Plunkett managed Laois between 2012 and 2016.

"All of those desirable personal attributes - you can see those in his style as a player too. He's very honest and hard working and then of course, he had the talent and the energy too.

"It's the athleticism that stands out the most with Paddy - if he was to concentrate on athletics, he'd certainly make a fair 800 metre runner with the stamina and endurance that he brings. He was a great man to get back into the full back line, to come out with ball and then to pass it on...the only fault you might have had was that the end product could have been off at times - that could well have been though because he was simply too fast for his teammates to keep up with him - either way, he's maturing as a player now and it's clear that he has more vision at the end of those runs..."

Ray Kelly knows not to be surprised by anything their midfield maestro conjures. Purcell won county championships with the club in 2010, 2012 and 2014, playing a key role in the engine room for each of those.

Kelly saw first hand the leadership that he brought to the table and nobody in Rathdowney was surprised when Eddie Brennan named Laois hurling captain at the start of the year.

"He's a real leader, Paddy would be quiet like but everybody in Rathdowney-Erril would listen to him and heed him because of how professional he is."

"He could just as easy be playing for the Laois footballers, he's really talented, one of these lads that no matter what he turned his hand to, he'd be good at it."

"Whenever a team with Paddy Purcell on it wanted a goal, he was always the man to get the ball and take off down the middle. Nobody can stop him..."

We'll leave the last word to Plunkett who feels the wide open spaces of Croke Park will suit him down to the ground.

"If he gets on the ball and takes off on one of those runs, he will certainly be a nightmare to stop, hopefully it ends up in a goal or two..."

And so says all of Laois.