David Hawkshaw: From Dublin minor hurler to Ireland U20 rugby captain

A standout player in the Leinster Senior Schools Cup for Belvedere, the centre is preparing to lead Ireland in the Six Nations.

IT IS A decision many can relate to, yet few are so prodigiously talented across two contrasting codes that the chosen path has a powerful capacity to shape much more than a sporting career.

For David Hawkshaw, there came a point when he simply had to choose between hurling and rugby; one or the other.

David Hawkshaw Ireland U20 captain Hawkshaw. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Having played both from a young age, it was always going to be a difficult decision to pursue one and leave the other behind, but in breaking it all down, rugby could offer him a career, while hurling would, essentially, be a hobby.  

All things considered, the decision became a lot more straightforward.

“I would have thought of that [making a living] when making the decision,” he says.

“It was hard to let go of hurling as well but at the end of the day, the decision had to made.”

A regular at both St Brigid’s GAA club and Coolmine rugby club from a young age, Hawkshaw developed a love for both sports, and given his talent on both fields, had every chance of representing Dublin at senior inter-county level.

As it was, the 19-year-old won a Leinster minor hurling championship with Dublin in 2016 and, a couple of weeks later, started at corner-back in an All-Ireland minor semi-final against Limerick at Croke Park. 

But through his years in secondary school at Belvedere College, Hawkshaw’s passion for rugby burned brighter as he became one of the standout players in the Leinster Senior Schools Cup, helping the Great Denmark Street school to back-to-back titles.

“Rugby was always something that I loved playing since my first few days down in Coolmine,” he continues. “It was something that I always loved. Watching my older brother, he is a few years ahead of me now, in Belvedere.

“It was something that I was always very passionate about and always something I wanted to give my best shot in.

“But I tried to play hurling for as long as I could and was lucky enough to be selected for the Dublin minors. One of my last games of hurling was October two years ago against Cuala in a club championship quarter-final, which we, unfortunately, lost by four points. 

Conor Burke and David Hawkshaw celebrate after the game Celebrating a Leinster minor hurling championship win at Croke Park in 2016. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Hawkshaw adds: “I think I came on in midfield. I am not too sure who I was marking, I was on David Treacy [Dublin senior hurler] for a bit but I was taken off him pretty swiftly. He was doing a job on me.”

While balancing the two, combined with his school work, required good time management and support from his parents, it was a commitment Hawkshaw was happy to make given his love for both sports.

Now in the Leinster academy system having completed his Leaving Certificate last June, Hawkshaw also credits the skills — both physical and mental — he developed through hurling important tools in his armoury as he looks to make the grade in rugby. 

“There would be different ones,” he says of the transferable skills between small and oval ball sports. 

“It’s little things like movement, the pace off the mark, little things like that. The aggression would be a big thing. I would like to say I have a bit in me. I think it was more, you are playing different games and you are learning a lot the whole way. It was more of a learning process for me for playing the both of them, especially in the later years.”

Hawkshaw was instrumental in Belvo’s back-to-back Senior Cup wins in 2016 and 2017 and in his final school year, captained the SCT team as they narrowly missed out on a three-peat after defeat to Blackrock College in last March’s decider.

A talismanic out-half in the black and white, Hawkshaw has been operating in the centre for both his club, Clontarf, and Ireland U20s this season and will line out there when Noel McNamara’s side begin their Six Nations campaign against England on Friday week.

Head coach McNamara paid Hawkshaw ‘the ultimate compliment’ at last week’s squad announcement by commending his selflessness and willingness to put the team’s needs ahead of his own by playing out of his favoured position.

“Wherever I am put, I am happy,” he says. “It’s just about knowing the structures, knowing the shapes, and getting the confidence up in either position and being ready to go then.”

David Hawkshaw runs in a try In action for Belvedere College last year. Colm O'Neill / INPHO Colm O'Neill / INPHO / INPHO

Being appointed Ireland captain is another measure of Hawkshaw’s leadership qualities, with Leinster’s Charlie Ryan and Munster scrum-half Craig Casey named as vice-captains for the championship.

McNamara’s side face the ultimate test first up when they host England down in Musgrave Park in Cork, but it’s a challenge Hawkshaw is relishing as the squad’s preparations intensify during a four-day camp in Fota Island. 

“You know with England over the last few years that they have a good pool of players to pick from,” he adds.

“As you have seen over the last few years they have been very successful.

“These are the games that you look forward to — taking on England down in Cork are the games you want to be involved in. It’s going to be great. We are really looking forward to putting in a good performance.

“The best thing about it this year is that we have a very strong pack. We look for the dogged attitude in a pack and that’s exactly what they have.

“There are some very good players, the likes of Michael Milne, Charlie Ryan coming back for his second year, John Hodnett as well from Munster. There are various others as well but they are men that get you on the front foot and that’s what us as backs like to live off; let them do the dirty work for us.

“It’s hugely exciting for us all.”

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