"That's the best young lad I've seen since Tommy Walsh" 1 year ago

"That's the best young lad I've seen since Tommy Walsh"

The Carlow minors are training on one side of the pitch. The St Mullin's under-12s on the other.

Hurleys swinging, sliotars flying, the sun-perched GAA grounds in Bahana are hopping.

Something has caught Tommy Buggy's eye. Himself, Pat Mullett and Shem Doyle go way back and the sight of the three coaches chatting on the line is a regular one for the young hurlers.

But this time, the Carlow minor manager comes over to the 12s like a chef to a burning pan.

"I'll never forget it," says Mullett, who looked after the St Mullin's under-12s with his right hand man Doyle.

"Tommy came over to me like a man who'd spotted something and he said 'Pat,' he said, 'what's that young fella's name with the white helmet? 'He's the best young lad I've seen since Tommy Walsh...'

Marty Kavanagh was only 10 years of age.

13 years on and that same young fella is coming into his prime and he's bringing Carlow along with him.

Some things never change.

"Ah we had a great bunch of young lads and you could see it in them when they were only six or seven. There was James Doyle - Shem's son, Ger Coady, Gary Bennett and a few other good talented fellas as well, and then there was Marty..."

The St Mullins under-10 team with their coaches Pat Mullett (left) and Seamus 'Shem' Doyle.

"Marty always stuck out, he just had something else in him from the word go. I remember as a young lad, six, seven or eight, he was only tiny and that's why he's called mouse now, but he'd still win a game on his own. He was pure deadly, had it all..."

"It's a fair comment coming from a Kilkenny man," says Mullett now of Buggy's Tommy Walsh comparison, "But that's how gifted he was..."

Marty Kavanagh would have been dancing.

In a small scenic village on the edge of the river Barrow, his St Mullin's home is less than 15 miles from DJ Carey's Gowran.

The border is only a few pucks of a ball away and the same goes for Wexford on the other side. In between the two heartlands however, lay a hurling hinterland.

It's a pity but a reality that Carlow's small hurling following had little to shout about and so as a kid growing up, you had a choice. His allegiance was never in question though.

With Kavanagh's parents following the Cats, black and amber were the colours and Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin were the idols.

Castlecomer coach Buggy had seen the future. South Carlow is hurling country too.

Their pocket is small with just four senior clubs, but it has produced great hurlers before. The county team enjoyed some success in the 60s but from then on good hurlers fell by the wayside mainly because of their place on the map. Born a few miles east or west and it would have been a different story.

They don't have to stray to Kilkenny or Wexford any more though. Mullett and Doyle's dream team of under-10s have played a big role in that.

"We used to travel to these tournaments in Wexford and Kilkenny with the under-10s. We were the only team in it and I remember we went out and won it one year, beat the Rower from Kilkenny and a few Wexford clubs too...Marty and James were the stars on that team..."

All smiles as Marty Kavanagh collects a trophy after a juvenile tournament

And stars they remained.

"Marty shot up when he was 14 and he was away in a hack then. Hurling all round him..."

By 16, he was called into the county senior panel by Kevin Ryan. By 17 he'd already made a name for himself with big scores and impressive performances in the Christy Ring and in the National League.

Kavanagh made his debut for the Carlow seniors during his Leaving Cert year

Up to recently, he was the best hurler half the country had never heard of but even that's changing now. Nerveless last minute frees and 12 point hauls against Galway making the young fella from St Mullins the talk of hurling grounds all over.

"Marty is Marty. He never got a big head, he loves representing Carlow and takes great pride in it. Any time you'd meet him he'd have a chat. I used to bring him to games and training sessions when his parents were working and sure we got on great," says Mullett.

"He'd be the first name on any team in the country now, there's nothing he can't do..."

And now it's come full circle. Sunday in Cullen Park and Kavanagh's boyhood team will be up against it to keep him quiet. A county's hopes rest on their young centre forward's shoulders but there's little danger of the 23-year-old feeling the heat.

"I remember he was interviewed after some match and they asked him who his biggest inspiration was in hurling. You'd think Joe Canning or someone like that is coming but himself and a few of the other lads mentioned me... it was really nice for me. It was a great compliment to be paid like and it just sums him up for me..."

Soon, Carlow will be on a par with their neighbours in hurling's south-east pocket atlas.

For now though, at least they've something to shout about.

*Thanks to Brian Flood for help with photographs and contacts for this article.