Depending on how things transpire in the Leinster senior hurling championship, the Walsh family from Tullaroan could end up with a pair of national league successes.
Last Sunday night, Miriam played a key role at full-forward while her cousin Grace scored a point as Kilkenny overcame Galway in the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division 1 final at Croke Park. Grace’s brother Pádraig is a pivotal member of the county’s hurling squad, which topped Group B of Division 1 of the Allianz Hurling League, though any final against Group A winners Galway will only take place if a championship meeting between the counties occurs.
Of course, on Noreside league medals are something of a cryptocurrency. In his book, Ger Loughnane recounted how, after his Clare side had lost the 1995 league decider to the Cats, he saw the trophy being put into the boot of a car afterwards – not a lack of respect but, always bigger fish to fry, it wasn’t one to be taking around the schools.
This year’s league served a different purpose to normal, more of a tune-up for a championship which is immediately around the corner. Given how well Kilkenny did ahead of a Leinster semi-final against Laois or Wexford in a fortnight, Pádraig is delighted with how it went.
“It came very thick and fast but we don’t mind that,” he says.
“We went a long time without any hurling and we were just out on the field, running on our own. Playing matches week-on-week was great and it was definitely stepping up each week. We’ve only two weeks now to get ready for championship, so those matches were a big help as there wasn’t a lot of time to prepare.
“The best way to prepare for a match is to play plenty of matches in the league, so we’re delighted to get that opportunity to play before the championship.”
Given the climate before the resumption of Gaelic games action, Miriam is happy to be back on the pitch rather than being stuck in the drudge of individual training over the winter.
“You were asking yourself if you were doing enough work and it was hard to know, because you were on your own,” she says.
“There are a few sisters on the team who were able to train together, but it was mentally tough. Some weeks, you’d be fine and then others you’d be saying, ‘another week of training on my own’.
“It was hard and it’s just brilliant to be back, you’re nearly enjoying camogie more now that we’re back as a team and you’re training with all of the girls.”
And, after it initially looked as if club camogie championship action would go between the inter-county league and championship, the decision was subsequently taken to run off the county games before players returned to their clubs. It’s something which Miriam thinks is a good idea.
“I really enjoyed the long time with the club last year,” she says.
“We never got that amount of time with the club before, so I think it’s a huge benefit for us. It’s hard on the club girls too because they’re saying it’s a long year but I was talking to a few club players and they were saying that fitness levels mightn’t have been strong enough to just run it off straight away.
“We’re happy enough with the way the fixtures are now.”
Growing up, the intra-family fixtures took place on the suckler farm that the families ran together. Pádraig’s sister Grace and Miriam – who teaches Montessori in Rosehill in Kilkenny – helped to bring out the best in each other.
“There was no camogie team in Tullaroan when I was growing up,” Miriam says.
“I played with the boys right up to under 16. That stood to me and then the battles with the cousins from across the road. We’ve great memories growing up of playing one another in the back garden.
“I remember one training in Tullaroan, myself and Grace were killing each other and our manager had to take us away from one another!
“All those little battles stood to us and we’re playing at the highest level now. Grace and I got on really well and we worked hard in the club, so I would have said that we’d get to where we are.
“We had each other to spur ourselves on.”
Of course, another important member of the family is Tommy, winner of nine All-Irelands and the same number of All-Star awards. However, trying to follow in his older brother’s footsteps wasn’t ever something Pádraig, a national school teacher in Callan, found daunting.
“It was just that, when you saw him playing for Kilkenny, it made you want to take that chance yourself,” he says.
“I know he was part of a very special team, but I never would have listened to any pressure anyway. The only pressure you’d put on would be on yourself and that was just to get on the team – you wouldn’t be comparing yourself to try to win as much as they did or anything like that. You’d just be trying to do as well as you can while you can and while you’re there.”
“He has been a great help, especially in my first few years when we would have been travelling into training together.
“It was definitely a great help because walking into the dressing for the first time can be very intimidating, but when you have your brother there to look after you, it’s not that bad!”
Pádraig has two All-Stars of his own now, in 2016 and 2019, while he has All-Ireland medals from 2014 and 2015. The quest to claim a third begins soon, just as every other team has their own designs on success.
There are six counties on the starting grid this weekend – Dublin meet Antrim in one Leinster quarter-final while Kilkenny will have eyes on the Wexford-Laois clash. In Munster, last year’s beaten provincial and All-Ireland finalists Waterford take on Clare in a game that could kick things off in barnstorming fashion.
The smell of cut grass is in the nostrils and we’re ready to go.
Littlewoods Ireland is proud to support both camogie and hurling for a fifth year running #StyleOfPlay