Donnchadh Walsh: 'Beating Dublin is a monkey off our back'
By John Harrington
Donnchadh Walsh admits beating Dublin in yesterday’s Allianz Football League Division 1 Final is a monkey off this Kerry football team’s back.
Walsh was one of the stars for the Kingdom as they ground out what was just their third win in their last 14 matches against Dublin.
They’d come off second-best against their great rivals in the 2011 All-Ireland Final, the 2013 All-Ireland Semi-Final, the 2015 All-Ireland Final, the 2016 League Final and the 2016 All-Ireland Semi-Final, so finally beating Dublin in a match of real consequence meant a lot to these Kerry players.
“Good bit of relief that we'd beaten them, definitely a monkey off our back,” said Walsh today at the launch of the Littlewoods sponsorship of the GAA Go Games.
“Even though we always had the confidence that we're good enough and they are beatable, it's nice just to confirm that and put that to bed.
“They're going to be a different animal again come the summer time. Just reinforces what we've been doing all along, what we've been striving for.
“At least now we know we're up there with them and on any day we can beat them, that's a nice feeling knowing that we've got a body of work to do before the championship comes around. That's a nice feeling to have heading into a few weeks of training and a couple of Munster championship games.”
Walsh admitted before the start of this year’s League that it would be easy for the Kerry players to become obsessed with beating this Dublin side.
And the fact that they let victory slip from their grasp in injury-time when the teams clashed in Tralee in March only deepened their desire to finally knock Dublin from their pedestal.
“You probably even see it in our performance against Dublin down in Tralee, it was one of our better ones,” said Walsh.
“But then we felt we were very flat the following week against Cavan. We were very lucky to get a draw up there.
“In a way we had such emotional and physical energy put into the Dublin game, that it affected our performance then the following week. So in a way we almost did get obsessed with that game and even the comedown afterwards affected us.
“It was always something we worked on not to get too obsessed with but we knew we were going to play them hopefully twice in the league. It was obviously nice to beat them.”
They just about got over the line in the end, but only just about. Dublin had a chance to level the game with the last kick of normal time, but Dean Rock’s free long-distance free struck the post.
By then Walsh had departed the fray and as he watched Rock line up the free was convinced Dublin were about to pull off another great escape.
“I was thinking, right, extra-time here,” he admits. “I was thinking, I'm wrecked here, what if he asked me to go on again. I was almost trying to get myself up for a few minutes again because I knew the fellas were out on their feet on the field. I was thinking who've they got left on the bench, who've we got left on the bench, who's going to be the difference?
“They did get very close. The games have been always close up until the final quarter. It was nice to be in the lead and it just showed how brilliant a team they are that they did peg us back. It was only the width of a post there at the end.
“But it didn't really matter the manner of the win yesterday, we just needed the win. However it came about, it was just winning really that was the important thing.”
Walsh was Kerry’s oldest player on Sunday, and one of their very best. But it was also a day when the new guard led by players like Tadgh Morley and Jack Barry really announced themselves as leaders in their own right.
“Yeah Tadhg is excellent,” says Walsh. “He's been leading his club there, Templenoe to huge success over the last number of years. It just sits so naturally with him. He's a massive leader now in the team. An excellent performance yesterday by them and that'll be excellent for his confidence.
“Jack, I think he just burst on to the team for the second league game, his first start against Mayo down in Tralee, where he nearly got in for two or three goals in the first half.
“He's put in some brilliant performances, two now against Dublin. We're just delighted to have unearthed another player who maybe wouldn't have been considered back in January.”
Kerry’s victory proves that there’s life after Colm Cooper, even if, as Walsh admits, there’s no way you could ever replace a unique talent like the Gooch.
Walsh believes Cooper had at least another year left in him as a county footballer, but decided to walk away because he wasn’t sure he could continue to reach his own high standards.
“He had an insatiable appetite for winning, he was such a winner, that I think when he felt that maybe he couldn't perform and help the team to win as he would have liked, I think that was why he maybe decided to call it a day,” says Walsh.
“The body was just not allowing him to contribute as much.
“Now, he still could have contributed off the field in dressing-rooms and coming in for maybe five or ten minutes and things like that. I absolutely would have bitten your right hand off for him to come in and do that.
“But he is such a winner behind it all as well that if he feels that he's not playing as best he can and his body isn't allowing him to play as best he can, I'd say the frustration of that would have got to him. I think that's why he made his call, the body just wasn't doing everything that the mind wanted it to do.
“There will be no replacing him. But I think he's left his legacy in that he's definitely contributed to my football career, he definitely contributed to a dozen or more fellas inside in the Kerry camp at the moment.”
You ask Walsh whether he has any one memory of playing with Cooper that stands out for him, and he suggests the privilege of training with him week in, week out, and seeing him regularly produce moments of magic away from the limelight.
Cooper has earned a lot of plaudits for his footballing skill in the last few days, but Walsh believes it was his character that really marked him out as something special.
“I had the pleasure of rooming with him in 2013 and he's just such a humble guy,” says Walsh.
“We're all in awe of him for so long. He'd have a few quiet words with you and it's the advice that I'd remember him for. He was just so giving of his time and anybody, no matter who you were, as long as you were playing with Gooch you were on his side and he would give anything he can for you.
“He almost put himself second. If he saw someone else in a better position he'd never look for the limelight at all. That was his class. And he had it on and off the field.
“That'll be what I'll remember him for. Just that modest guy who just oozed class. He had time for everybody as long as they were a team-mate of his. He wanted them to become the best player that they could be and would do anything to allow that to happen.”