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Pádraig Harrington on giving up GAA as a teenager to focus on golf

The three-time Major winner played for Ballyboden St Enda’s and Colaiste Eanna before opting to dedicate his weekends to golf.

Pádraig Harrington watches a drive at this month's Wells Fargo Championship.
Pádraig Harrington watches a drive at this month's Wells Fargo Championship.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

PADRAIG HARRINGTON ONCE had dreams of taking over from John O’Leary, in goal for the Dublin footballers. The three-time Major winner was a talented goalkeeper for his school and club during his teenage years but eventually decided on a golfing path that would see him competing with, and beating, the world’s best.

Harrington’s father, Paddy, played GAA for Cork and won two Munster titles with the county back in the 1950s. Upon moving to Dublin, Harrington and his wife Breda raised five sons and encouraged them to follow a wide range of sporting pursuits.

“When I was a teenager, I would have played Gaelic and hurling on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the school [Colaiste Eanna] and trained on the Monday,” Harrington recalled. “I played Gaelic football [with Ballyboden St Enda's] Saturday morning, soccer on Saturday afternoon and soccer on Sunday morning. I would have done that up until I was 14, 15 then I chose golf as my sport.

“Up until that I would have only played golf in the summer; it was a summer sport. From 14 onward it was a matter of when would I have time to play these sports and play golf. I started dropping the weekend sports as I wanted to go and play golf.” He added:

The problem was I was a goalkeeper, that is why I could play the three matches each weekend. They were dependent on me so I had to say ‘Look, I’m not coming’. I played my last soccer when I was 15 and my last Gaelic, for the school, when I was 17.

The Dubliner commented, “There’s no doubt, if you play GAA you’re going to be a better rugby player. If you play GAA you’re going to be a better golfer.” Expanding on the point of engaging in team sports, Harrington said, “There are so many good things [for children] to learn in golf but it is a very selfish game. So, if it is not balanced it, it can be a dangerous game to play as your only sport.

“Learning to win and lose is very important in team sports; learning how to have empathy with your teammates when you’ve had a good day but the team has lost or when the team has won but you’ve had a bad day… all those things are very important for life.”

Harrington believes GAA is a vital organisation in keeping young people fit, active and engaged. “Schools don’t do enough in the way of Physical Education,” he said. “There’s not enough gymnastics in school or mobility work — teaching kids how to tumble and fall properly. That type of [mobility] work makes you a better golfer; full stop.”

Harrington believes taking part in a wide range of sports is ideal up until the age of 15, before honing in on a specialist discipline. “We’re lucky with golf,” he admits, “because it’s not likes gymnastics or swimming where your career is nearly finished at 17 years of age. If you’re not a star in tennis at seven, you’re not going to be a tennis player. Whereas with golf, you could be a star at 24.”

Guess that put our tennis dreams firmly in the shade, so.

CGI Launch 07 Harrington and Anna Brown from Knocklyon. Source: Andreas Poveda

Padraig Harrington was speaking at the launch of the Confederation of Golf in Ireland, which is aiming to promote the game across the country and back top golfing prospects. For more on CGI, check www.cgigolf.org

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