Patrick Campbell is part of the Ireland U20s squad for the Six Nations. Tom Maher/INPHO
No regrets

Former Cork minor star Patrick Campbell looks to make his mark in U20s Six Nations

The Munster Academy player is part of Richie Murphy’s Ireland U20s squad.

IT’S NOT TOO long since Patrick Campbell found himself facing a difficult decision.

The talented Corkman was at a sporting crossroads. He was making real strides with his Gaelic football and was part of the Cork minor team that won an All-Ireland Championship in 2019, playing a key role throughout the season and kicking a point in the decider against Galway.

Then there was rugby, which offered the possibility of living the life of a professional athlete.

“I’ve always enjoyed the sense of professionalism that sport has and I want to see how far I can go with that,” Campbell explains.

“It was a huge decision, obviously. Playing with lads who you grew up with since you were four years old and then telling them you’re going to switch codes. A lot of hard decisions were made, but I still think I made the right decision.”

Since turning his focus solely to rugby, the 19-year-old has quickly gone about making a name for himself. He’s featured in big games for Munster and is hoping to catch the eye again in the coming months as he prepares to tackle an U20s Six Nations championship as part of Richie Murphy’s Ireland squad.

The PBC product, who is studying Law and Accounting at UL, signed to the Munster Academy in November of last year, and one month later was making his senior debut in the remarkable Champions Cup win away to Wasps, where a Covid-hit Munster side recorded a thrilling win despite naming a team which contained a number of young, inexperienced wider squad players.

patrick-campbell-scores-a-try Campbell runs in a try against Wasps. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Campbell sailed through the occasion with an assured performance and a debut try, his display one of the most eye-catching of the day, with Munster head coach Johann van Graan handing him another runout in the 15 shirt when Castres visited Thomond Park a week later.

“At the time, I was just so focused on the game, I just took it in my stride. But looking back on it now, it was obviously such an amazing experience,” he says.

“During the week, I think I was very calm, just looking forward to the game, buzzing for it. I didn’t really think too much of it.

Playing in Croke Park for the semi-final and final (in 2019), mentally preparing yourself for big games, I think that really helped for that (Wasps) game in particular, with the hype around it. I really do think the GAA helped in that way.”

And while Campbell has been able to add Champions Cup rugby to his CV this season, the less glamorous surroundings of the All-Ireland League has served as an equally valuable learning ground. 

“I think playing with Young Munster and playing in the AIL was hugely important this year. Just that step up in physicality and that quicker pace of the game.

“Obviously myself and the people my age didn’t really play many games with the Schools Cup being cancelled in fifth and sixth year for myself. Jumping into that step up of adult rugby really helped in all aspects of my game.”

ethan-fiorentini-and-patrick-campbell Campbell won an All-Ireland minor title with Cork in 2019. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

The Ireland U20s open their Six Nations campaign with a home game against Wales in Cork on Friday, and Murphy has stressed that he wants his team to play a fast, open game. Campbell can cover multiple positions across the backline, but feels he does his best work at fullback, and feels his skillset leaves him well placed to thrive within that approach. 

“I’ve multiple conversations with them (the coaches) and I think they’re looking for that, just play the ball, that freedom game. We have huge detail in our game but I think they just want us to go out and show them what we can do with a really talented bunch of players.

“I think my strengths are I run the ball back well, I’m good under a high ball and I trust the players around me.

“Just in training the last week, I can see that we’re really gelling together so I’m really comfortable where I am in that squad.

“I’ve played at Musgrave a few times now, being from Cork myself. I’m really looking forward to it, I’m not a huge fan of the astro pitches but I still think it’s enjoyable to play on and that fast game, any conditions you can still play a bit of fast ball compared to grass.

“That suits my game perfectly and I think that will suit our game as a team, and I’m really looking forward to it.”

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