Paddy Deegan is made of the right stuff
By John Harrington
Paddy Deegan has made a name for himself this year with a series of outstanding displays at corner-back for the Kilkenny hurlers, but he’s always been made of the right stuff.
The defiance that you see on the pitch every time he bursts onto a ball was shaped in his formative years when Deegan lost a series of major finals with his club O’Loughlin Gaels and school Kilkenny CBS.
Rather than be discouraged, those serial set-backs “put a huge resolve in him”, according to his fellow club-man and seven-time All-Ireland winner, Brian Hogan.
Eventually Deegan did get over the line in a major final when he starred for the Gaels team that won the Kilkenny U-21 Championship in 2015, a success that fast-tracked him into Brian Cody’s Kilkenny senior panel.
Once there, Hogan had no doubt that Deegan would quickly establish himself as one of former Headmaster Cody’s favourite pupils.
“Paddy's attitude is what would have set him apart from many of the other lads his age, he was always a very driven young lad,” Hogan told GAA.ie
“I'd say he decided very early on that he wanted to be the best player he could be, and he's worked ferociously hard at it, which I always think is the best sign of an individual.
“He's a great lad. The attitude is everything. Brian (Cody) would look for that with lads over and above everything else and Paddy would have a good attitude.
“He's made for that kind of set-up. As a fellow club-man I'm delighted to see him do as well as he's done at corner-back because it's a tough position.”
The ease with which Deegan has adapted to the corner-back position has been all the more impressive considering he’s played most of his club hurling in the middle third of the field and also played at midfield for Kilkenny last year.
Some were quick to presume he’s be a square peg in a round hole as a corner-back, but Hogan had no doubt Deegan would be able to adapt quickly.
“People outside of the club might be been surprised to see him in there, but I knew he'd have the right attitude and that he'd flourish in there because of the way he always steps up to the challenge.
“He loves the cut and thrust of it and the more physically demanding it is the better as far as Paddy is concerned. He would never shirk away from that.
“I think people who don't know him have been really surprised and delighted with the way he's performed He's probably been our most consistent player all year.”
It seems as though the confrontational nature of the position suits Deegan.
As a corner-back, you have to go toe to toe with your opponent and stick tighter to them than you do in any other position on the field.
There’s a good chance too that you’re going to be coming up against one of the opposition’s most high-profile players, but testing himself against the best has always been something that Deegan has relished.
“The year we won the county senior final (2016) he would have played midfield against Ballyhale. He would have been coming up against Michael Fennelly and would have been forgiven for looking at him in awe.
“But Paddy would have no fear about marking anyone. He'd back himself to do a job, and the bigger the reputation the more he'd love it.
“I remember that day before the ball was thrown in he even had one or two square-ups with Henry (Shefflin). For a lad who was 20/21, just to show that kind of attitude was super and exactly what you'd want.”
Deegan’s positive style of corner-back play is quickly making him a real favourite with the Kilkenny supporters.
He’s dominant in the air, attacks the ball with great pace and flair, and his clearances are hit with intent rather than hope.
“Paddy just loves hitting ball and he plays the game the same way,” says Hogan. “He's a bit like Tommy Walsh in that regard, all he wants is the ball and he attacks everything.
“Even up in the club he'd be constantly hitting hurling balls and driving the management mad during breaks because he'd be driving them 80 or 90 yards trying to shoot them over the bar when most lads are trying to get a bit of water or catch their breath.
“Even at half-time in matches or training sessions he'd be going around looking for a loose ball to drive it. He's that kind of lad, he's just full of energy, and he plays the same way on the hurling field.
“He's a bundle of energy and all he wants is the ball.
“As well, when he gets the ball then what he does with it is very good. You could see that improvement in him, his head is up the whole time. He's looking to ping those passes, which the boys are trying to do more now, work the ball out of the backs.
“He's been the most effective at that and is the first outlet for a short puck-out. Eoin pings the ball to him and he works it out from there.”
Sunday’s Leinster SHC Final against reigning All-Ireland champions Galway will be the greatest test yet of Deegan’s inter-county career and corner-back credentials.
He’ll most likely be man-marking the lethal Conor Whelan who has been in sensational form so far this summer for Galway.
It’s a big ask, but Deegan has proven since he was first called up to the Kilkenny senior panel that there’s very little that fazes him.
“Some lads maybe when they got the call inside they can be a bit daunted going in and you're sitting there beside guys you would have been previously looking up to,” says Hogan.
“Just the whole set-up with Brian in the dressing-room as an imposing figure.
“And then the step-up in terms of the physicality and the intensity.
“But I would have had no fears of Paddy in that regard because he's well able to look after himself and would thrive in that sort of environment.
“That follows through then I think to when it comes to big days like this. A match like this wouldn't be something that would faze him.
“He'll enjoy marking the marquee forwards on the big days. I think it's probably his first time to play in Croke Park so that in itself will bring its own pressure and nervous tension, especially when you're going up against a Galway side that are reigning All-Ireland champions and favourites.
“But, knowing Paddy, that's something he'll relish.”