Thrilling Tullaroan triumph motivates Walsh
By Cian O'Connell
Everywhere she turned in Croke Park on January 18, Grace Walsh saw Tullaoran joy.
A gripping AIB All Ireland Intermediate Final against Fr O'Neill's went the distance. With four brothers playing the Walsh family made a sterling contribution to the success. It wasn't just about that, though, because Walsh knew the sacrifices made.
Far from the field of play different little things had happened. Brother Damien Brennan, who sadly passed away last year, wasn't forgotten.
"He was with the Tullaroan team the year before," Walsh recalls. "Shane, my youngest brother, he would have a built a very close bond with Brother Damien. One thing he promised him was that they would win the club county final.
"He was in all their minds in every game from the county final up to the All-Ireland final. It was nice, you would feel him with you, whether you are a supporter or a player. It was special for them."
Last September Kilkenny lost the All Ireland Camogie Final, but Walsh had a different perspective compared to previous harrowing losses. "What I did learn, Brother Damien, after him passing away, there is a lot more to life," Walsh admits.
"Even though GAA is a huge part of a lot of our lives, you can't let one game ruin that whole year.
"I don't know where I'm going to be tomorrow. So, even though we lost and I was gutted, I was like, 'I'm going to enjoy this moment with this bunch of girls that I've got a better friendship with'. We've built a better spirit in the group and a better bond.
"I'm on the panel a long time now. It just comes with experience. You learn to enjoy the moments that you can."
The full gamut of emotions were experienced at GAA headquarters during a thrilling encounter.
"I didn't know what I was feeling in Croke Park because the match was going one way and then another way," Walsh laughs.
"You thought they were going to win and then it was, 'Oh my God, are they going to lose this?'
"Their goal was to win the county final and that was the most special, anything after that was a bonus.
"Even just playing in Croke Park was class because there are lads there that will never get that chance again.
"After them winning the All-Ireland final, it was surreal, it was so special. I see what they put into it, the hard work and the dedication; what it means to them and the Tullaroan supporters as well.
"It doesn't matter that I had four brothers playing, the person next to me might not have had anybody playing and it meant as much to them."
Watching such drama and excitement unfold ensures Walsh is ready, willing, and able to make an impact with club and county on the Camogie pitch.
"Absolutely," Walsh replies. "The joy that they got out of that, both with Kilkenny and the club, it would drive me on more so even for the club for the coming year.
"As a supporter, I felt like I nearly got the same feeling the boys got on the pitch. It would drive you on to get that winning feeling again. Hopefully now this year.
"The feeling that you get after even winning just a Championship game, you've worked really hard and the matches are so tough and at the end of it it's like you have a relief, but you're just happy that everything you've done over the last few weeks or months was worth it. It would be a driving factor to winning I suppose, yeah."
Former Kilkenny Camogie boss Ann Downey will take charge of Ballyragget in the Kilkenny Intermediate Hurling Championship in 2020. Walsh believes Donwey can make a real impact.
"That woman can’t sit down, she loves the game, I would have been surprised if she didn’t do anything for the year," Walsh laughs.
"She just lives and breathes Camogie and hurling. I think it’s class for her, I’d say best of luck to the lads training under her. She’s tough but I’d say they’ll all have a lot of respect for her. I think she’ll do great things with them.
"She’s done a huge amount for Camogie in the last few years and I think everything is changing and do you know, it’s not just going to be men anymore. It’s going to be men and women. It is brilliant because you could have a woman like Ann Downey, who’d be so much better than any man, like she could do a better job than any man with that Ballyragget team and I just think it’s brilliant for the future of women’s and men’s sport, that we’re going to be coming together as well."