Kilkenny v Tipperary - GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Phase II

6 July 2013; Kilkenny's Tommy Walsh leaves the pitch after the game. GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship, Phase II, Kilkenny v Tipperary, Nowlan Park, Kilkenny. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Legends: Tommy Walsh


Legends: Tommy Walsh

Ahead of his Legends tour at Croke Park this Saturday, we spoke at length with Kilkenny's nine-time All-Ireland winning defender and nine-time All Star Tommy Walsh. See below for details on how to book the tour.

By Brian Murphy

In the summer of 2002, Tommy Walsh was 19, in his first year out of minor and in his first year as a member of the Kilkenny U21 squad. Even by Kilkenny's standards it was a fine U21 side, crammed with future stars such as David Herity, Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell and Aidan Fogarty, an already-established Kilkenny senior in JJ Delaney, as well as his clubmate and Tullaroan's Féile hero from five years earlier, Shane Hennessy.

Kilkenny were expected to do well - in other words they were fancied to challenge three-in-a-row chasing Limerick for the All-Ireland - but they met a very good Wexford side in the Leinster semi-final and lost a tight game. Walsh and Kilkenny had one foot in the provincial final when Rory Jacob scored a goal three minutes into added time, giving Wexford a 1-13 to 0-15 win.

It may have been an inauspicious start to his U21 career, but Walsh's performance at corner back didn't go unnoticed. "Walsh was playing the proverbial blinder in the home defence," Trevor Spillane wrote in the Kilkenny People. "The young Tullaroan lad cleaned up in his corner and continued to do so over the hour."

As far as Walsh was concerned, that was the beginning and the end of his involvement with Kilkenny for the year. Ten days later he was in Croke Park with his friends, watching Kilkenny beat Wexford in the Leinster senior final as a supporter.

[highlight/>

As it turned out, the local journalists weren't the only ones monitoring his performances for the Kilkenny U21 side. One evening the following week, Walsh was pucking a ball around the back garden of his family home in Tullaroan when the house phone rang.

"There weren't any mobiles around then; well I certainly didn't have one anyway," Walsh says. "And the mother called me and said there was someone looking for me on the phone. It was Brian (Cody).

"He just asked me to be involved in a few training sessions, there wasn't any real invitation onto the panel. Luckily enough, I did OK and was kept on the panel for the rest of the year."

A year earlier, JJ Delaney had caused a sensation when he was thrown into the senior set-up in his first year out of minor by Cody, whose 17 years as Kilkenny manager have proven that he is not prone to over-promoting young talent.

That Walsh was the only other player from that gilded U21 side Cody deemed ready to make the step-up tells you just how good he was. Although a year older and physically far more developed, it was another year before Jackie Tyrrell moved up; Brian Hogan, two years Walsh's senior and six inches taller, would have to wait until 2004 before making his championship debut.

Having made his senior debut for Tullaroan as a 16-year-old in a challenge games against Callan three years earlier, Walsh was always ahead of his time. While Cody had no real intention of playing him that summer, he had seen enough in the youngster to know that he would play a huge part in his vision for the future for Kilkenny hurling, and knew he would benefit from the experience of training with the senior side for the rest of the year.

That Kilkenny went on to win an All-Ireland title meant Walsh was bred for success from the very start, indoctrinated in Cody's winning philosophy in the same way the original Ronaldo was when Brazil manager Carlos Alberto Parreira took him along to the 1994 World Cup in the USA for the experience as a precocious 17-year-old.

(Tommy Walsh's first squad portrait as a Kilkenny senior player, taken ahead of the 2002 All-Ireland final)

"At that age, it's not so much as intimidating as exciting," Walsh recalls of the experience. "You just can't believe that you are on the senior inter-county panel with the likes of DJ (Carey), Peter Barry, Brian McEvoy and all these lads.

"I was at the Leinster final as a supporter and suddenly I was marking them in training. For the first few weeks, you are just excited to be there and you could hurl away as if you were in the back garden."


While Walsh had long been touted as a future star around Tullaroan and by those in the know in Kilkenny, it wasn't until 2003 that his career really took off. He was handed his first competitive start in an Allianz League game against Waterford at Walsh Park in February 2002, lining out at corner back. Two weeks later, he partnered Derek Lyng in midfield in a League match against Galway. He scored four points from play and won the man-of-the-match award in a game that was shown live on TG4.

(Tommy Walsh is attended to by team doctor Tadhg Crowley in the League game against Galway, March 2003)

He started at midfield in the next three games against Laois, Clare and Dublin before being moved to wing-forward for a play-off against Cork at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, where he struck four sweet points from play.

So, by the time Walsh made his championship debut for Kilkenny in a Leinster Championship game against Dublin in Nowlan Park on June 7, 2003, he was seen by Cody as a forward.

"I remember that day," says Walsh of his championship debut. "It was a big day in Nowlan Park, Dublin were hotly fancied at the time and there was a massive crowd in there."

Walsh scored another five points from play. In the Leinster final against Wexford, he knocked over three more and in the All-Ireland semi-final win over Tipperary, he scored a memorable goal, ramming his shot past Brendan Cummins at the third attempt, the Tipperary goalkeeper having spectacularly saved his first two shots.

Walsh may have been doing a fine impression of a forward, but his manic, childlike celebration betrayed his roots as someone more used to stopping goals rather than scoring them.

Against Cork in the All-Ireland final, he scored another three points to bring his total to 1-11, all of which came from play, in his first four championship starts. Walsh finished the year with an Allianz League medal, a Leinster SHC medal and a Celtic Cross, an incredible introduction to life as a senior inter-county hurler. There were Leinster and All-Ireland U21 titles too.

Walsh had made such an impact in his debut season that he was profiled by local journalist Barrie Enriques in the 2003 Kilkenny Yearbook. "He has shown to the manager that his hurling skill, embellished with an inner confidence are the hallmarks of the kind of warrior hurler that Brian Cody admires, and is constantly seeking," Enriques wrote in a glowing reference.


When you think about Tommy Walsh, you picture the red helmet and the famous No. 5 tiger stripes. He became so synonymous with the No. 5 jersey in the latter stages of his career, it's hard to imagine a time when he didn't form one-third of the Kilkenny half-back line.

As outlined above, Cody found a place for Walsh in his team at wing-forward in 2003, which is where he started and thrived in the opening game of the 2004 Leinster Championship, when Kilkenny suffered a shock defeat to Wexford in the semi-final.

Cody reshaped the team for an assault on the All-Ireland title through the Qualifiers and Walsh fitted into his re-imagined side at corner back, which he saw as a return to his natural home.

"I never played as a forward at all, or even in midfield. I was always a corner back," Walsh says. "But I was always very small, and when you are with the club or even in St Kieran's and the county minors, I was always seen as a corner back because of that. I grew up as a corner back and would always have seen myself playing there."

He had a run of five successive games in the Kilkenny team at corner back until the 2004 All-Ireland final against Cork, when Cody handed him the No. 5 jersey for the first time in his career, and detailed him to mark Timmy McCarthy, a rugged, awkward wing-forward whose fielding ability had caused plenty of other teams problems that year. Walsh did his job admirably, but Kilkenny were well beaten by Cork.

Cody noted Walsh's prowess under the high ball and filed it away for another day. In 2005, the Kilkenny manager sent him back out to wing-forward and that's where he stayed until the 5-18 to 4-18 defeat to Galway in the All-Ireland semi-final.

That game was a watershed in the development of the great Kilkenny team; it also helped to shape the rest of Walsh's career and to form the almost mythical status he would earn as a wing-back. Although he won a third successive All Star in a third different line of the field at the end of the year - midfield (2003), corner back (2004) and wing-forward (2005) - he would scarcely feature in any of those positions again.

After conceding 5-18 to Galway, Cody had to rebuild his team again, and Walsh would be central to his plans. When Kilkenny lined out against Westmeath in the Leinster semi-final on June 10, 2006 Walsh started just his second game for the county at wing-back. He stayed there for the rest of the season and won the first of six consecutive All Stars in the position.

"That's where I loved playing - you're catching the ball, reading the game, you're not confined to the corner on man-marking jobs. You could play with a bit of freedom out in the half-back line," Walsh says.

"Your man could get on the ball, but it was almost more important that you got on the ball. I loved playing out in the half-back line and from 2006 on was the most enjoyable part of my career."

Although only 5' 10", his bravery and timing under the high ball allowed him to dominate bigger men, and to clean up on opposition puck-outs. Ostensibly a defender, he was in fact one of Cody's most potent attacking weapons during Kilkenny's march to greatness in the second half of the decade.

In that period, Cody often set Kilkenny up with big, strong ball-winners such as Henry Shefflin, John Hoyne and Martin Comerford on the edge of the square, and they feasted on the booming deliveries Walsh specialised in. At wing-back, Walsh was the thunder before the lightning, and it was in this time and in that position that the Tommy Walsh legend began to catch fire.

(Walsh launches a trademark clearance in the 2009 All-Ireland semi-final against Waterford)

In 2007 and 2008, Cork were wilting as a force, and in the absence of a genuine challenger, Kilkenny reached out for perfection and almost touched it on a few occasions.

In 2009, when Walsh was named Hurler of the Year, Tipperary finally emerged as a genuine threat to the Cats' hegemony. From his family home in Tullaroan, it's five minutes to the border with Co. Tipperary. From the modest prominence of the Slieveardagh Hills just to the west of his beloved village, the land sweeps down to the homeland of Kilkenny's greatest rivals.

Tipperary brought the best and worst out of Kilkenny, and they brought the best and worst out of Walsh. In three successive finals, Walsh and two of Brian Hogan, John Tennyson and JJ Delaney formed the Kilkenny half-back line and fought out three of the most savage, primal games of hurling imaginable.

At the time, Walsh was accused of playing too close to the edge, and even of stepping over it. "I'd hate to think he is not a player who plays on the edge," Brian Cody once said. "Where are you supposed to play?"

(The 2012 All-Ireland semi-final)


In the end, Tipperary ceded to Walsh's greatness by sending one of their most talented forwards, Lar Corbett, out to mark him in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final. Walsh had been detailed to mark Pa Bourke and Jackie Tyrrell was to follow Corbett. They spent the first 20 minutes of the game bumping into each other, like four tethered horses in a field.

It was a bizarre spectacle; one of the best forwards in the game pursuing a defender, a botched tactic Corbett, team-mates Eoin Kelly and John O'Brien and Tipperary coach Tommy Dunne had hatched the week before to curb the destruction Walsh had wreaked on them in previous years. The plan backfired badly and Kilkenny won the game by 18 points. Given the unwanted attention the whole episode had brought, Walsh's phenomenal display that day was all the more remarkable.


Before the 2014 World Cup, ESPN sent a journalist off to Lionel Messi's hometown of Rosario in Argentina in an effort to learn more about the little genius . What emerged was a picture of a simple young man who had a complex relationship with his home town, and of his struggle to find meaning in his life outside football.

The most revealing insight in the lengthy piece is a story of a visit Messi had paid to his relatives' house in the city. "They hung out in a backyard, and they watched him, uneasy, antsy. Finally, without even realising he was doing it, he pulled a lemon from a tree and juggled it mindlessly with his feet, whole again," Wright Thompson wrote.

With Tommy Walsh, there is no mystery. If you sent five investigative journalists down to Tullaroan for a week to find the 'real' Tommy Walsh; to find out what fire burned inside him over his 12 years with Kilkenny, his 11 years as a starter and his nine consecutive seasons as an All Star, they should all come back with the same answer.

"No one loves the game as much as Tommy," says one former Kilkenny team-mate. Walsh may not need a hurl and a sliotar to feel whole, but his elemental love of the game of hurling is so pure and rich it would rival that of Messi's love for football, which is so profound he sulked for days when Pep Guardiola rested him for a game.

"I loved being there. I love hurling," Walsh, 33 since last month, says. "This year I am back playing with the club (Tullaroan), playing matches every weekend or every second weekend and I'm absolutely having a ball. The things that keep me going are the matches and training, when you know you have a great chance of playing and being in the mix.

"I love hurling - the buzz of getting out on the field, the buzz of winning ball, the buzz of playing matches. That's what kept me going and that, I suppose, is what kept all the Kilkenny guys going for so long.

"A lot of people would ask you, 'How do you keep going?' Sure, it would be a lot harder to stay going if you weren't winning. We were living our dream, we were in Croke Park every year, All-Ireland finals nearly every year. We were living the dream."


Tommy Walsh was born in Tullaroan in 1983, one of Frankie and Michael Walsh's four children, along with brothers Pádraig, Shane and Martin and sister Grace. His father, Michael, played for the club and his maternal grandfather was the legendary Paddy Grace, who won two All-Ireland titles with Kilkenny.

When Tommy was 11, Tullaroan beat Dicksboro to win their first Kilkenny SHC title since 1958. His father was full-back on the team and his uncle Dick started at wing-forward.

"When you are born into a place that's so crazy into hurling, you're going to be hearing stories and stories. I was getting it from both sides with my father so involved and then on the other side in Kilkenny and nationally everyone knew my grandfather," Walsh explains.

"I was very lucky in that there was 30 in our class and there were 16 boys, which is unusual, because usually there might only be four or five boys in a class. We were all into hurling, and I was lucky from that point of view that we were hurling from a young age, the minute we went to school.

"My father (Michael) hurled senior for Tullaroan and I was down the field every evening when they were training. Basically, we were living a great life, as any young lad did at that time.

"At that age, you do what your friends are doing and that's all we did back then. There was no real soccer, Gaelic football, no real temptation to play other sports. From day one, we knew what we loved."


When you talk about Tommy Walsh, you have to talk about his size - 5' 10" and 12 stone, according to the match programme for last year's All-Ireland final replay.

From the very start, size didn't mean much to Tommy Walsh. In 1997, Tullaroan won the Kilkenny Féile (U14) title. The national finals were on in Waterford and Tullaroan travelled over the county bounds to represent the county. What the small village side from close to the Tipperary border achieved that weekend has entered Kilkenny folklore.

Walsh takes up the story, as familiar with the details as he is with any of the more celebrated feats in his career. "There were four teams in the group - ourselves, Piltown, Kilmallock and Mount Sion. We won our morning match against Piltown and we had to go play Kilmallock in the afternoon match to see who topped the table and went through. We drew it. It went to that evening then and Kilmallock won their match by so much that we had to win by a cricket score (33 points).

"We played Mount Sion in our last match and they played Piltown. Shane Hennessy scored 11-4. It was remarkable really because we didn't think we would be going through so you can only imagine the elation after winning."

In the final, Tullaroan played Sarsfields from Cork. On a windy afternoon in Walsh Park, 18 years ago last Sunday week, the Tullaroan boys met a side that contained two future Cork stars and giants at that age, Michael Cussen and Kieran Murphy. When the boys in the green sashes lined up beside their Leeside opponents for the parade and the national anthem, it looked like a complete mismatch. The footage is still there on YouTube to prove it.

Walsh took his usual place at full-back and marked the biggest boy on the Sarsfields team. It was such an outrageous mismatch, Waterford's former All-Ireland winning goalkeeper, Ned Power, wrote about his fears for the young Tullaroan No. 3 in his newspaper column the following week. Kilkenny journalist Enda McEvoy recalled the story in the Irish Examiner years later.

"The Sarsfields full-forward was a human skyscraper in the form of a teenager. The opposing full-back was an elf who appeared so laughably out of his depth against his gangling marker that Power's heart went out to him," he wrote.

"After 20 minutes Power's fears had been fulfilled, the twist being it was the unfortunate full-forward who was being eaten alive by the little fella. Power noted the name and filed it away for future reference. Tommy Walsh."

The size difference between the two sides may have been all the talk on the sideline, where GAA Director General Liam Mulvihill and President Joe McDonagh were among the spectators,

"We were small, but we had won a lot and we were very confident going into the final. At that age, you don't really get caught up with things like size and we didn't make too much of it. We didn't mind," Walsh says.

"It will live long in the memory of all Tullaroan people for some time because it's hard enough for a big town club to win Féile, never mind a small little club. We know exactly what we won and we are very proud of it."

McDonagh decribed the game, which Tuallroan won by 2-12 to 2-7 to become the only Kilkenny club other than James Stephens and the first from outside the city to win the title, as "one of the greatest finals ever played".

Writing in the 1997 Kilkenny yearbook, Ned Kennedy summed up the extent of the achievement. "They said it couldn't be done; that you needed a big team to win Féile. Well, Tullaroan had half a big team. What this team has done for the credit of the little village will be recalled at firesides with the legends of Lory (Meagher) and all the others."


SPIRIT

"What I kind of love is the whole spirit of the thing, when you know that you're going out on that field and there's nobody, nobody going to outfight you. There's no other team around that can say 'I'm going to work harder than this crowd' because you developed that kind of spirit that can't be broken. It's a fabulous thing." - Brian Cody, 2015.

When you talk about Tommy Walsh and Kilkenny hurling, you need to talk about spirit. If you listen to Brian Cody after Kilkenny play a championship match, he will invariably reference it. "The spirit was good today," he'll say, and the media will allow one of the fundamental truths of Kilkenny hurling to wash over them in the pursuit of some false drama of the day.

Cody built great Kilkenny teams on very basic principles. He won the loyalty of his players by saying things and backing them up. "Play well in training and you'll make the team," is one of his favourites, and it still catches people off guard when he hands a player their championship debut in an All-Ireland final or replaces two-thirds of his half-back line between games with little warning.

(Brian Cody and Tommy Walsh celebrate after the 2011 All-Ireland final)


"He was a hurling man; I was a hurling man and we both knew that there was only one thing in our heads and that was hurling," Walsh says when asked about his relationship with Cody.

"Brian, from the offset, was very fair, very straight, you knew that once you put in the effort and found any bit of form at all your chance would come. That's the way he has been with all players.

"When I was in there, it was the same if you were No. 1 on the panel or No. 30, you knew he picked you if you got into a good vein of form. It was great for the overall sense of satisfaction in the group - you never felt that no matter how you hurled he would look over you.

"For a group, you could go out and train and whether you were the best player you knew you had to put it in or whether you were new to the panel, you knew that if you hit form you would get your chance. That was my relationship with Brian.

"If you have a manager who says things and then doesn't back it up with his actions then you will quickly find that the guys from 25 to 30 mightn't put in the same effort in January or February or in the big training sessions in the middle of the summer because they feel they are not valued or they mightn't have a chance of coming on.

"When he did pick guys who might have been out of favour earlier in the year but suddenly came into form, then it kept everyone on their toes. Nobody slacked off; everyone kept up the intensity."

To some, Cody's founding principles are clichés, but in reality they are the self-evident truths of any team sport. While other teams talk about them, Kilkenny live them. And nobody lived them out as literally or as passionately as Walsh. "He is the physical embodiment of spirit. He is hurling as far as I'm concerned," his former Kilkenny team-mate says.

When asked what the word 'spirit' means to him, Walsh laughs, and without pausing, says, "Look, it was a massive part of it.

"I remember Brian Cody told us he wasn't there to win All-Irelands, he was there to create a spirit that couldn't be broken. I suppose it put a great emphasis on it then with the players - winning was a result of what you were all about.

"The whole spirit and the actual hurling side of things is all we could concentrate on, and the winning followed because we were doing so well. It makes a group feel special. It makes a group feel really close when that word is mentioned. It was a huge part of our careers.

"People told us we had a great team, but what people don't realise is that a lot of matches were turned on a hook here, a point there and without that closeness we wouldn't have got in that one hook or that one point. It was a huge part of the success that we achieved."

When Walsh won an All-Ireland Colleges title with St. Kieran's College in 2000, Brian Hogan and Jackie Tyrrell were on the same team. Walsh got his chance in fifth year, the only player on the side that beat St Flannan's in MacDonagh Park in Nenagh that hadn't been involved in the All-Ireland final defeat to the Clare school 12 months earlier.

Walsh, Tyrrell and Hogan all went on to play on that same U21 team for Kilkenny in 2000, and by 2007 were winning senior All-Ireland titles together, forming half the Kilkenny defence that beat Limerick in the final. They knew each other better than anyone and trusted each other implicitly.

"When you grow up with guys and are winning with guys, you definitely develop a strong bond because it gives you great belief in each other and you know you can trust them on the big stage, you know what they train and you know they are not a messer," Walsh explains.

"We were in the same year in Kieran's, growing up playing on the same teams, and while we had good days and bad days you knew you could rely on them when you really needed it. It was great because when it came to the big days in Croke Park when you needed trust in the lads beside you, we had all that.

"A lot of us from that time have a very strong bond, and while we are not going to be meeting them as often now, we'll always have that bond."

(Tommy Walsh, Kilkenny, with his GAA GPA All-Star, his ninth in a row, at the GAA GPA All-Star Awards 2011)


Before 2014, the only championship game Tommy Walsh had missed over 11 seasons with Kilkenny was the Leinster semi-final against Wexford in 2011, which he was forced to sit out with a shoulder injury.

In 2012, after winning nine All Stars in a row, that incredible run ended. By his own admission, he hadn't shown All Star form that summer, and he suffered publicly in the Leinster final against Galway when he struck two sideline balls into Joe Canning's hands and topped another.

For the first time, the qualities that once made Walsh box office were beginning to look a little quaint. Instinctively, he was a playground hurler, all crashing symbals and manic guitar riffs. But he was playing punk rock when Kilkenny's challengers were dancing to Daft Punk beats.

One of the enduring images of Walsh's career is a photo from the 2011 All-Ireland final against Tipperary. Walsh (5'10") attacks a Tipperary clearance and emerges from a crowd of players including Noel McGrath (6') and Brian Hogan (6' 4") with the ball, grabbing it at the apogee of his leap and bounding clear, fearless. What the image fails to capture is that Walsh then looks up, picks out Henry Shefflin's run and pings a 60-metres crossfield pass straight onto his hurl.

For all the visceral qualities of Walsh's game, his ability as a hurler was probably something that wasn't valued. There was a notion that his free-wheeling style didn't fit into the new world of systems, where possession was now nine-tenths of the law.

When Kilkenny lost the 2013 All-Ireland final to a hard-running, skilful Cork side, it was seen as further proof that Cody's great side had finally been caught and outrun by the chasing pack, and that Walsh no longer fitted into the 'modern game'.

Walsh was back for the start of the 2014 campaign, but he was taken off at half-time in a League game against Tipperary after Kilkenny had conceded four goals in the first half. A few weeks later against Dublin, he didn't make it to half-time, and was pulled by Cody and replaced by his younger brother Pádraig after 35 minutes, having endured a tough time against Danny Sutcliffe.

That was it; Walsh never wore the No. 5 jersey for Kilkenny again. Cody looked to younger, quicker men in the half-back line and his near unbroken run of 51 championship appearances ended when he failed to start the Leinster Championship quarter-final against Offaly. When he did get game time as a sub last summer, it was as a forward, and Walsh knew it was the beginning of the end as far as his inter-county career was concerned.

(Tommy Walsh enters the field as a substitute during the second half of the Leinster Senior Hurling Championship semi-final against Galway)


"I knew when I was moved from the backs into the forwards that the time was coming," he says. "If I was in the backs you might be out of form but you'd get back into it. My natural position is in the backs - that's where I love hurling, that's where I love training and love playing. I suppose the forwards is a bit different to that and when I did move up I knew that it would be my last year.

"I never wanted to go out on a high; my thing was to go whenever I wasn't being picked. I didn't think it would come that early and I thought I might get another year or two out of it. I was obviously hoping to go as long as I could and it did end a bit early for me.

"I would hate to be sitting back at home and thinking that if I stayed I could still have been playing. That would have been a bigger regret of mine. I'm happy the way I went out but obviously I would have liked if it had gone on a bit longer."

For someone who loves nothing more than playing hurling, it was hard to take, but even when he knew the end was drawing close he had to live out one of Cody's enduring mantras - 'nobody is bigger than the team'.

"The big thing for me was I had a brother that had no All-Ireland medal and I wanted to make sure he had one in his back pocket," he says of 24-year-old Pádraig, who started the All-Ireland final replay and adorned the No. 5 jersey his brother had worn for years with a superb display.

"To see your own brother there makes up for the disappointment that you wouldn't be playing yourself. To see him being picked for the replay, having such a great day and winning the All-Ireland, was a very proud moment for myself and the family."

(Pádraig Walsh, left, and Tommy Walsh with his son Finn after the 2014 All-Ireland final replay).


He had another debt to repay, too.

"I was on the team for so many years and there were so many subs put in so much effort when I was playing. I wanted to make sure I did everything I could to put medals in lads' pockets - the likes of Conor Fogarty and Lester Ryan, all these guys that spent years as subs when I was on the team and they trained as hard as anyone.

"They drove me and the rest of the group to win All-Irelands. I wanted to make sure I was one of those lads and to make sure I helped them out in that way."


When you talk about Tommy Walsh, it's hard not to talk about him in the past, as if a light went out on his hurling career when he announced his retirement from the inter-county game last November.

"When you're gone, you're gone," he says of his inter-county career.

But when you talk to Tommy Walsh, it's clear that's just one part of his hurling life. He isn't interested in media work because as far as he's concerned the time for talking is after he finally retires from the club game.

"I'm still very young and I have a good few years left in me with the club. That's where my focus is at the moment. I am lucky enough that I am coming back to the club and I am still very fit, still enjoying my hurling. I have a few years left of enjoying it.

"It would be worse if I came back at 36 or 37, just coming back and finishing off with the club. I am going back now and I am enjoying the training and the matches. It would be great if we could win something."

Given Walsh and his father spent a year playing together on the same Tullaroan team in the Special Junior Grade before one retired and the other went on to achieve greatness, Tommy should have a few years left in him yet.

Although Tullaroan are down in the Intermediate grade this year, they still have five or six from the '97 Féile team knocking around, younger brother Pádraig is an established Kilkenny star now and their 17-year-old cousin, also Tommy, is making waves with Kilkenny underage teams.

"Tommy will be determined to get them back up to senior," former Tipperary star Eoin Kelly, who was on the same All-Ireland winning St Kieran's team with Walsh in 2000, said recently. "I'd say the ultimate for him would be to win a county title with Tullaroan."

The spirit of Tommy Walsh lives on in Kilkenny hurling and the spirit of Kilkenny hurling lives on in Tommy Walsh.

Inseparable, unbroken.


The Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tour with Tommy Walsh takes place this Saturday, July 4, at 11.30am in Croke Park on the eve of the Leinster Hurling final between Kilkenny and Galway. All Bord Gáis Energy Legends Tours include a trip to the GAA Museum, which is home to many exclusive exhibits, including the official GAA Hall of Fame.

Booking for Tommy Walsh's tour is essential as it is sure to sell out quickly. To book tickets and to find out more about this summer's GAA Legends tour series, visit www.crokepark.ie/gaa-museum

For further information and booking:

GAA Museum, Tel 01 819 2323E: tours@crokepark.ie or check out www.crokepark.ie/gaa-museumPrices for the Legends Tours are as follows: Adult - EUR15.00, Child - EUR9.50, Student/Senior - EUR11.50, Family (2 adults + 2 children) - EUR40.00