No hurling league final, but another huge day for the Walsh Family
By Kevin Egan
With just two weeks to go before both counties open up their summer championship campaigns with Leinster semi-final clashes, Kilkenny’s Pádraig Walsh understands why it wasn’t possible to play this year’s Allianz Hurling League Division One final – even though the sound of passionate supporters at Cusack Park last time out has whetted his appetite for more games in front of a live audience.
“We got a taste for it against Clare the last day, we’d a couple of hundred people at it," he said at the launch of the Littlewoods Ireland Camogie league finals this afternoon.
“It was very enjoyable to just hear the roars when the tackles were going in and the balls were going over the bar. You definitely missed the crowd.
“In fairness, the coverage has been very good, it’s been great that you can still see all the matches. You’d definitely prefer to see the crowds though. Hopefully, everything will go well with the camogie on Sunday and that’ll allow us to have crowds at all the games for championship."
A limit of 3,000 people has been set for Sunday’s big game at Croke Park, the fourth big national final between Galway and Kilkenny since 2019. With that rivalry building up, the Tullaroan man is looking forward to another fascinating contest in which his sister Grace and his cousin Miriam Walsh are both likely to feature.
“Whoever gets a ticket in the family will definitely be there! It’ll be hard to get a ticket, there’s 3,000 people allowed go but there’ll be huge demand just to see a hurling match. So the demand will be high, but that’s great for the girls, they get to play in front of such a big crowd, and they fully deserve it. Galway and Kilkenny have had such a great rivalry in the last few years, they’ve had great games, it can only be great for the game to have a crowd on Sunday," he said.
If it had been possible to play a hurling league final, the same two counties would have been involved, but he understands that with the Leinster championship so close, it was always going to be difficult to play the game as a standalone fixture. Instead, if the two counties meet in the championship, that will double up as the final of this year’s Allianz League.
"You would like to get the game, but it’s probably too close to play it. The league has been fairly hectic there week on week so it’s probably no harm to get yourselves right for two or three weeks and get yourself sorted. In normal times you’d love to play a league final but with Covid and all there probably wasn’t time to fit it in."
In the absence of that final, and with little or no relegation threat for teams once they had a win or two on the board, there was some speculation about how reliable this year’s league has been as a form guide. Several teams clashed in advance of rematches in the championship, most notably Cork taking on All-Ireland champions Limerick, and it was hard to tell who was keeping something in reserve. Walsh insists that whatever the case in other counties, Kilkenny were honest and full-blooded in every one of their games.
“I think they were massive matches,” he said.
“We only had three weeks to prepare and then you’d matches for four or five weeks. We’ve championship now in two weeks so I think everyone took it very serious. I know you’d matches that people put out different teams but you had to do that to test out your panel and give lads as much game time as you could. I was delighted getting four or five weeks in a row getting matches and giving lads plenty of experience it was definitely worthwhile.
“We won all our games up to that [Clare game] so one thing is, we were consistent. There’s definitely plenty for us to improve on. You can see from the Clare game things were stepping up and we’re getting closer to the championship.
“They’re obviously hurling really well and we can see now that we have to pick it up for championship if we want to compete. It’s going to be a very competitive championship. You can see from all the league games in both divisions, every team has plenty of things that they’re happy with and plenty that they wouldn’t be happy with and everyone seems to be taking points off each other."
For this weekend however, he’s happy to take a back seat and to let Grace, Miriam and their colleagues take the limelight and show that there’s just as much skill on show in the camogie arena.
“When we were younger in Tullaroan, we didn’t have a camogie team apart from the schools team. So all the girls would have played with us, and we’d never look at it any different, they’d hit us harder than the boys would! So yeah, it’s just out of habit now, you just say hurling.
“The girls put in as much effort as us, they train as hard as we do, so it’s only right that they’re starting to get the recognition for that and it’s great to see all the promotion they’re getting and to see Littlewoods promoting them both together”
“I think that’s very important for the game, and for the girls as well, if they want to develop and become more popular and recognizable, to do as much as possible with hurling and to get an audience for what is an incredible game."