'Lads would say you dream of playing in Croke Park but with your club, it never came into my mind'

Padraig Walsh and Tullaroan are gearing up for Sunday’s All-Ireland intermediate hurling club final.

Pádraig Walsh ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Championship Final.
Pádraig Walsh ahead of the AIB GAA All-Ireland Intermediate Club Hurling Championship Final.
Image: David Fitzgerald/SPORTSFILE

PADRAIG WALSH ADMITS it himself, the thought of lining out for his club Tullaroan in Croke Park never even crossed his mind as a youngster.

“I never thought it would happen,” he admits. “It’s very special, it’s kind of a once in a lifetime thing.”

When the Tullaroan squad gathered ahead of the 2019 season, lifting an All-Ireland title on Jones’ Road didn’t enter the equation. After years of near-misses, the one and only goal was to seal a return to senior ranks.

Tullaroan atoned for their Kilkenny intermediate final defeat of 2018 by defeating Thomastown last October. Their starting team included Padraig and his three brothers Tommy, Shane and Martin.

The outpouring of emotion was summed up by Tommy’s lengthy embrace with their father Mickey at the final whistle.

“We’ve been slagging him about it since, ‘You never came near the rest of us,’ laughs Padraig.

“And he feels awful now he says, ‘Ah he was the closest one to me.’ But he was absolutely over the moon. He was on the sideline beside Tommy at the time so it was nice to see the two of them, and the video of them after was cool.”

Padraig describes it as the most emotionally-charged game he’s ever been involved in. Coming from a man who’s won and lost senior All-Ireland finals with Kilkenny, that’s quite the statement.

“It was unbelievable now. That county final was the most emotional game I ever played in. At the final whistle we were waiting so long to get over the line, we never thought about what would happen after.

“I’ll never forget those few minutes after the match. Just the whole place flooded onto the pitch. Everyone from Tullaroan was on it. Just meeting everyone was absolutely brilliant. It’ll live long in the memory.”

Tullaroan’s last county title win at adult level arrived back in 1994, when Mickey Walsh was still going strong at 36 and helped them deliver their last senior crown.

“It was great for him to finally see us win one as well. But he still slags us because ours was only intermediate.”

With four sons starting on the team, he admits his father can be a bag of nerves when the big games roll around.

“He’d be very nervous now. He doesn’t even like being around us the morning of a match. He just kind of stays away, he gets very nervous.

“Even he said in the county final it wasn’t until about two minutes to go when he could start enjoying the match, he was still very nervous.

“So it’s tough on him, it’s not easy when you have four lads playing because it’s not often that the four lads will play well on the one day. So he’ll always be disappointed for someone.

“They definitely get very nervous watching us anyway.”

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Since their relegation from senior ranks in 2014, Tullaroan suffered a county final loss  and two semi-final defeats. Added into the equation were the four league finals they lost during that spell too.

Even when Tullaroan finally won the league title in 2016, beating Carrickshock, it came with a sting in the tail.

A number of supporters from the parish were caught exceeding the speed limit on the way home from Thomastown and shipped penalty points on their licence – Mickey Walsh included!

“I think we got to a league final every year but only won one back in 2016,” says Padraig. “So we had lost a lot of finals, there was a lot of hurt built up as well. But then the other side of it was we were actually winning games.

“When were up senior we struggled big time. I started in 2009 and 2016 was the first year I won a championship game with Tullaroan. When we were down intermediate even though it was disappointing not to get over the line, we were actually winning games and we were starting to enjoy our hurling a bit more.

“But definitely all that hurt built up and it made this year all the sweeter.”

With four hurling-mad sons and Kilkenny camogie star Grace in the house, it’s little surprise that the Walshes spent most of their youth down at the local hurling field.

tommy-walsh Former Kilkenny hurler Tommy Walsh. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“We don’t really have anything else in Tullaroan. You’ve the hurling pitch and that’s all that’s really down there. It’s more of a social thing as well, a place for people to go down and meet people and stuff.

“It’s gas, you’d still see lads in their 20s going around meeting for a few pucks down the pitch and stuff because there’s not many other places you can go. So we were just brought up on it, we were going down to trainings with Daddy and going on the sideline bringing in water and that kind of stuff.

“So we just grew up with the whole thing and obviously there was so many of us then as well that we were always playing hurling matches against each other. You’re living close to all your friends and cousins and they were all going to each others’ houses playing hurling. So that’s all we have really, we don’t really have much else.”

And the club will be well-supported in Croke Park on Sunday for a day they know might never come again.

“There’s a load of buses coming up, I think we had three supporters’ buses the last day, I think there’s four or five coming up on Saturday.

“It’s a great occasion for the club you know, there are probably a lot of lads there that thought that they would never see their sons playing in Croke Park and they’re getting the chance to come up and support their local team and see their sons walking out onto that pitch, it’s a very special occasion for everyone involved.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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