Walsh primed to deliver again for Kilkenny
By John Harrington
There’s a good case to be made that Walter Walsh made the most spectacular Championship debut in the history of hurling.
Sprung from nowhere for the 2012 All-Ireland SHC Final replay again Galway, he scored 1-3 from play and was the official Man of the Match.
It was an incredible start to his senior inter-county career, and the years that followed weren’t bad either as he won two more All-Irelands in 2014 and 2015.
He enjoyed those victories at the time, but were Kilkenny to beat Tipperary in Sunday’s All-Ireland Final you get the feeling he’d appreciate his fourth Celtic Cross more than the three he won in the early years of his career.
Kilkenny’s relative ‘famine’ of failing to win an All-Ireland for three years running has given him a new appreciation of what it means to be successful.
“It seems like a long time since the first All-Ireland,” said Walsh. “It is quite a while, even since the last one in 2016 against Tipperary. It seems like ages away.
“You begin to wonder will you ever get back to an All-Ireland final because it was a couple of years. I suppose in Kilkenny we've been very fortunate to be in quite a lot of All-Irelands.
“You kind of question will we be back there but our ambition every year is to win the All-Ireland and we're in the All-Ireland now so we're in with a shout.
“I think there's a nice blend between experience and youth. You've the likes of TJ and Richie Hogan and these lads who've been there for years. Colin Fennelly, Paul Murphy - these lads are very experienced.
“Then you have new lads coming in like Conor Browne, Richie Leahy's there again he's still young, Adrian Mullen as well so there's a nice blend there between the experience and youth.”
Walsh now very much belongs in the experienced camp.
The 21-year-old bolter who turned the 2012 All-Ireland Final replay on its head is now in his athletic prime and surely one of the first names that Brian Cody inks on his team-sheet.
A troublesome ankle injury curtailed him earlier this year, but he reminded everyone of just how important a cog he is in the Kilkenny machine with powerful displays in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork and All-Ireland semi-final against Limeirck.
“I'm 28 now, yeah I feel good,” said Walsh. “Had a bit of a setback with a few injuries there, throughout the Leinster championship I wasn't doing a whole lot of training.
“I was just going from game to game and I probably struggled a bit with that. it was the back of my ankle that flared up, there's bone there.
“It all flared up there. I've had a bit of trouble with that throughout the year as well but it's totally fine now.
“The ankle is finally healed and I feel fitter. I feel as good as I've ever felt.”
He certainly looked in prime physical condition in Kilkenny’s epic All-Ireland semi-final win over Limerick.
It’s hard to imagine anyone covered more ground that the man-mountain half-forward as he dropped deep into his own half to close down space when Limerick attacked before catapulting back up the field whenever Kilkenny turned over the ball.
“The way wing-forwards play you're up and down the field more so than any of the other forwards,” said Walsh.
“That's the role that a lot of wing-forwards are playing now. I was sore after that match, it definitely took me a couple of days or even more to get over it.
“Even the intensity of hits and everything like that the body was just sore.
“But they're the things you have to do if you want to win a semi-final against a team like Limerick.
“They're an unbelievable team so we knew we had to work really, really hard for that.”
The key to Kilkenny’s win over Limerick was the manner in which they out-worked the Shannonsiders in the middle third to win the majority of ruck-ball and breaking ball.
The game-plan won’t be any different on Sunday. The priority will be to win the war of attrition with Tipperary in the middle third of the field and let the game develop from there.
“Yeah, definitely,” said Walsh. “It's massive. If we can work harder than them we're giving ourselves a great chance to win the game. That's how it is, and they'll be looking at it the same way.
“Whoever can get a few turnovers, a few hooks, a few blocks, it could be the difference in a goal going in one end rather than down the other. It's massively important.
“There will be rucks and if you see a black and amber jersey coming out with it then it's a huge lift to the team.
“And, personally, it would be as well on the field when you see one of the Kilkenny players coming out with the ball or winning a hard ball.
“It's really, really important, especially early on in the game.”
Walsh set the tone for Kilkenny in his first All-Ireland Final back in 2012.
Don’t be surprised if he repeats the trick on Sunday.