What makes St Kieran's College a hurling heaven for dreaming stickmen
The anticipation was real for Brian Carroll.
Built up in his mind as hurling heaven, the near religious stories about DJ Carey, Eddie Keher and other Kilkenny legends honing their craft at St Kieran's College had him daydreaming all the way through sixth class in county Offaly.
Carroll will never forget D-day.
An outsider coming in, he had impressions to make, and walking through that famous gap on College Road with a hurl in one hand and a helmet in the other wasn't a bad first one.
This was no act though. The Coolderry youngster was hurling mad as his decision to leave Offaly showed and no sooner than that first Monday in September - his first day as a St Kieran's student - he was already enquiring about the first year hurling trials.
Pictures of Eddie Keher, Nicky Rackard and then dizzying amounts of All-Ireland winning teams cladding the halls around him, he'd come to the right place.
"As it turned out, we never picked up a hurl in that first session. I'll never forget it, we went off running, ran the legs off us, I suppose it was showing us the physical demands of hurling and I was just thinking, this is up another level entirely," he told SportsJOE.
No fear of the Kieran's boys missing out on the stick-work though.
"To me, nothing else bar hurling mattered and St Kieran's was the Mecca of schools hurling at that time. They'd won so much and having had players like DJ Carey pass through - he was the man for me - I just wanted to be in there doing what those lads were doing and doing as much as I possibly could to bring on my own game."
Those lads were the likes of Jackie Tyrrell and Tommy Walsh - Carroll's classmates, but circling the infinite trophies, pennants and framed jerseys were inspired young fellas everywhere.
"I was in the same year as Tommy and Jackie, then below us there was the likes of Cha and Richie Power, Henry ahead of us. That's what it's like and it was great for me because my hurling came on straight away."
But what was it that these lads were doing differently down in Ireland's most famed hurling nursery?
"From the minute you walk in, you're absolutely living for hurling. Every youngster goes around with a hurl in their hand nearly all day long. Buzzing for break-time to play games on the wall-ball, you're having a few pucks out on the fields, you're drilling balls over the bar. In between classes, you're tapping balls off the ground and off the wall, you could hit a ball anywhere in St Kieran's...I loved every minute of it."
"I remember this game we used to play and I'll tell you, this is why Tommy Walsh was so good in the air...
"So one poor young lad would be asked to strike the ball, there could be 30 or forty lads under it jumping up and trying to win it. It was all within the rules of the game alright, but Jesus, it was absolute blue murder and if you won the ball, you were the man, like...
Tom Hogan is one of the longest serving people in St Kieran's, having passed through as a student in the 70s before coming back as a teacher in 1991. He's the senior team manager this year, and he sees the these games every single lunch-time.
"The very same thing still continues today. Usually what happens is fellas leave their hurls down and go up and try to catch the ball. One fella hits the ball up among around 30 fellas, and the strongest survives you know!"
'As long as it's not too hectic,' says the school's current deputy prinicpal Liam Smith, 'we let them at it!'
It wasn't just about the skills though.
"You learned this focus and this belief too," says Carroll. "I suppose it's the Kilkenny mindset."
That famous Kilkenny mindset. As the Cats dominated hurling in the noughties and up to recently, it's been the subject of much discussion and admiration. Carroll firmly believes that the culture at Kieran's - where hurlers are expected lead by example or get left behind - sums it up in a nutshell. It's a holistic approach and just like working hard makes all the difference in a game, these lads had to focus on the books too.
"It stems from the class room, like if you're a hurler, there's nearly more of an onus on you to be a role model. They're the lads the younger fellas look up to and even for yourself, there was always training Friday evening, and sure you just couldn't afford to be messing around in class because that meant detention - you didn't have the time to be at detention because you knew that they'd find someone else to replace you with on the team if you missed a few training sessions."
When everybody wants the one jersey, there's always someone to replace you. It's a winning culture and if you step out of line, somebody else will gleefully step in.
"I remember in first year, the list of the players who'd made the panel used to go up on the notice board at 11.00. Clock was ticking towards 11 in class and I couldn't wait any longer so I crawled under the teacher's door to get out and see if I'd made it, I remember it clear as day.
"But no that's what it was like, the competition, not just to get on the team, but to get on the first panel, it was so competitive."
With the competition so fierce, it made for some hectic training games. The lads absolutely loved it.
"In training games down through the years, Jesus sure myself and Tommy Walsh - he was corner back and I was corner forward and we used to cut lumps out of one another. By the end of it, they had to separate us because it came a bit too competitive between us!"
And in there you've the ingredients for the most successful hurling school of the lot.
Eoin Kelly knows well. One of the greatest forwards hurling has been lucky enough to see, the Tipperary man came into Kieran's in fifth year and in his two years there, he would only lose one game between League and championship.
"I remember I was at a Croke Cup semi-final the year before I moved, the bodhráns going, the crowd chanting, I was thinking 'this is absolutely unbelievable and sure I was mad to get a piece of this like!"
"A couple of Tipperary lads had gone before me - and sure it was a running joke with the Kilkenny lads that they wouldn't have won without a Tipp lad or without a boarder like myself on the team..."
"That winning ethos is everything," he says. "We lost the Croke Cup final to Flannan's in '99, Jesus, it was a tough one to take..."
Sure as night follows day though, Kelly would help them end the three year famine in 2000. That famine wasn't their only motivator.
Often, it's only All-Ireland winners who get their picture up on the famous college wall and Kelly, Carroll and all their classmates were desperate to leave a trace in the school that served them so well.
"You'd be looking at it any time you were waiting outside for a class to begin or something like that...You'd be looking in awe, absolutely dying to get your picture up there with these legends of the game...We won in 2000 alright, but sure I was gone the next year so I never got to see it up there, disaster," he says with a laugh.
Sure enough, a trip down sees the pair pride of place on the distinguished wall, side by side along with the class of 2000.
"I have nothing but fond memories of my time in Kieran's, it was great to be a part of it," he concludes.
And the hurlers keep on coming.
This week, they're back again, back in their sixth All-Ireland final in a row. Another bunch looking to leave their picture on the wall.
"This week will be absolutely epic down there, we used to go to choir practice coming up to games it would be all about getting the chants going for the game, ah Jesus," reflects Carroll.
'Let's go Kieran's, let's go!'
Ah Jesus is right.