Tipp bolter Feehan has burst from the pack
By John Harrington
Paudie Feehan has journeyed a road less travelled on his way to establishing himself in the Tipperary senior hurling panel.
His only previous inter-county experience had been as a Gaelic Footballer for the Premier County's minor and U-21 teams, and he’d never made the grade at underage level in hurling before his call-up to the Tipp senior panel late last year.
Feehan admits it came as a shock when he got the phone-call from Tipp manager Michael Ryan last year and somewhat surreal to share a dressing-room with men who’d been his childhood heroes, but from the start the Killenaule man was determined to rise to the challenge.
“It’s a great experience to be looking at lads you've been watching on the TV for the last few years,” said Feehan.
“It's great to be in amongst them because you can see up close how they apply themselves for every single game.
“It's mad I suppose when you come in to training the first few nights, I was only 19. But you can't be standing back admiring them. You just have to get in amongst them and try to beat them in training.”
Feehan’s application in training earned him his senior inter-county debut in the Allianz Hurling League Round 2 clash with Waterford when Michael Cahill was a late withdrawal just before throw-in.
When you go in you just have to believe in yourself and try as hard as you can
An unknown quantity going into that match, by the end of it he laid down a serious marker with a performance that was full of vim, vigour, and a notable lack of fear as he attacked every ball that came down his channel at wing-back.
“When I got my chance in the League, I was only called into the team from the warm-up so there was no pressure really,” he said.
“It was actually ideal to go in there like that because you felt like you could just go for everything. You're not under too much pressure when you're in there, the management don't put you under too much pressure, so you just go for every ball as hard as you can.
“When you go in you just have to believe in yourself and try as hard as you can. Just work as hard as you can both on and off the field.”
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan was the sort of defender who took no prisoners in his own playing days, and after Feehan’s debut he made it very clear he’d been suitably impressed by the rookie’s controlled aggression and desire to attack the ball.
“He is a competitor first and foremost, once you have got that in your armoury, you are not too young,” said Ryan.
“He is a real breath of fresh air, he comes and just wants to hurl, as they all do. Paudie was a bit of a surprise that he has made so much progress so quickly. Normally it is a one or a two year apprenticeship, but Paudie seems to have gotten out of the traps early.”
Perhaps it’s not all that surprising Feehan has made such an early positive impression when you consider he’s always been a naturally talented sportsman.
He excelled as a rugby player too at schools level, helping Rockwell College to a Munster Schools Senior Cup in 2015.
I have two older brothers, I'm the youngest of four, so I was battered when I was younger
And he's also had a lifelong mentor in the shape of his brother Jimmy, an outstanding wing-back with the Tipperary footballers, who would have educated Paudie in the school of hard-knocks as they grew up together.
“It's only now that I'm getting as big as him I can stand up for myself!”, laughs Feehan. “I have two older brothers, I'm the youngest of four, so I was battered when I was younger! Maybe it toughened me up a small bit.
“I suppose you'd look on at what he's (Jimmy) doing and what he's doing right and try to do those things right too.
“I suppose mainly you'd watch what he does off the field in the gym and his eating habits, all that, just trying to be as good as possible. Just doing your best off the field to make sure you perform on it.”
Despite his lack of experience, Feehan's League displays have put him right in the mix for the Premier County’s championship campaign, starting with Sunday’s clash with Limerick.
By the end of the League campaign the Tipperary half-back line was far from set in stone, and Feehan is hopeful he’ll get a chance in the coming weeks to prove he’s already good enough to lock down one flank of the Tipp defence.
“Yeah, hopefully,” he said. “We've been told that if you put your hand up in training you'll get your chance.
“With four games in four weeks it's going to take a tough toll on players. It won't be the same starting XV every game so hopefully you might get a chance.”