Hurling and camogie

Kilkenny legend Tommy Walsh missing sport's competitive edge

Electric Ireland 'Darkness Into Light' ambassador Tommy Walsh has encouraged the public to come together while staying apart by getting up at 5.30am on Saturday to watch the sunrise, showing solidarity with those impacted by suicide. He is also asking people to spread the message and offer hope by sharing their sunrise moment using the #DIL2020. On Saturday it is expected that over 250,000 people will come together on every continent to walk together, highlighting the fight against suicide and self-harm. As the walks cannot take place as planned due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, Electric Ireland and Pieta have launched an urgent ‘Sunrise Appeal’ which encourages people to donate what they can to this vital charity. Picture by INPHO
Neil Loughran

FAMILY quizzes on WhatsApp are the only thing filling the competitive void for Tommy Walsh in these tough times, and the former Kilkenny star admits he cannot wait until the day he is able to cross the white line again.

Renowned for his warrior spirit, Walsh amassed nine All-Ireland titles and picked up nine Allstars during a glorious career in the black and amber. And, despite calling time of his days with the Cats career six years ago, Walsh wasn’t done there.

The 37-year-old was a central figure as his club Tullaroan went all the way to the All-Ireland intermediate title back in January – an achievement that ranks alongside any across two decades of top level hurling.

GAA players in both codes are likely to enjoy a very different experience when the games are eventually allowed to return, and Walsh feels the coronavirus crisis has made everybody take stock of what is important in life - and in sport.

“You’d often think of having conversations around winning and losing, but competition is massive, it’s a massive part of our lives – both the winning and the losing,” he said.

“That feeling of trying to achieve something and get over the line, whether you do or whether you don’t… it brings such a focus to your life, whether that’s hurling or whatever sport that may be.

“That’s what we’re missing most. It’s not the big crowds going to the matches, it’s the two or three weeks lead-in - ‘will our team win? Will our team lose?’ and then the feeling after, whether it’s exhilaration or desolation.

“They’re the feelings we’re missing at the moment. Do I think there’s going to be a Championship this year? You’d hope there will but it’ll have to abide by the guidelines. Peoples’ lives are at risk and we have to make sure we do the proper things.

“It’ll depend on what happens with other contact sports around the world; the WHO [World Health Organisation] I’m sure will give advice to Ireland on playing contact sports.

“I’d say it’s 50-50 at this stage to be honest.”

Some players and officials, including referee David Gough this week, have voiced concerns about returning to action before a Covid-19 vaccine is in place.

As a father to young children, Walsh admits his own perspective is different now compared to what it might have been in the past.

“When you’re young you feel invincible so you never feel that this is going to affect you. If I was a single man with no family and nobody else around me, I’d go back and you wouldn’t be worried one bit about yourself really.

“That’s kind of the way you’re built but everyone has parents, people with underlying conditions so that’s the only thing that I would be worried about - that you pick it up and you pass it on to somebody else. That would be very difficult to live with that.

“Now, at the same time, how many people die in accidents every day before this Covid-19 so if you never go out and do anything, nothing will happen anyway.

“In time I’m sure we’ll have to try and get back to some kind of normal life and that will probably coincide with a vaccine.”

Tommy Walsh's sister, Grace, is a medical nurse at St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin

And Walsh doesn’t have to look too far from home to see the bigger picture in the midst of all this.

His younger sister Grace, a key member of the Kilkenny camogie team, works as a clinical nurse in Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital, and has been on the front line ever since the pandemic took hold.

Not getting home to Tullaroan has been the tough part says big brother Tommy, who is understandly proud of her efforts.

“That is the career she chose,” he said.

“She doesn't feel sorry for herself having to work in that area. When you work as a nurse, I am sure you love helping out people. That is their call, fair play to them. They are rescuing the country really.

“They all have families, some of them have children, elderly parents, and yet they are going in there working away. You just have to be positive.

“Lucky enough Grace is that bit younger so she wouldn't be in that high-risk category age-wise. Obviously when she is in contact with people through the hospital, it is going to be a worry for ourselves, but we don't think like that. We try to think positive.

“The way we look at it, she is doing a great service, as all the nurses are for our country. This is their time and by God are they producing it.”

MANAGEMENT HOLDS NO APPEAL FOR FORMER CAT

MANAGEMENT - or any involvement with the inter-county scene - is not on the radar for former Kilkenny ace Tommy Walsh.

Former Cats team-mate Henry Shefflin moved seamlessly into the bainisteoir’s bib after hanging up the hurl, leading Ballyhale Shamrocks to back-to-back All-Ireland Club titles in 2019 and 2020.

As a result ‘King Henry’ has been tipped as a potential successor to Brian Cody in years to come but Walsh – who helped Tullaroan to All-Ireland intermediate glory on the field back in January – insists he has no plans to follow suit.

“I’ve absolutely no interest whatsoever - at the moment, anyway,” said the 37-year-old.

“When I’m hurling, I love just going out and playing. You’re like a free bird there for a couple of hours. When you’re managing a team you have to remember everything – you have to organise physios, buses, you’re trying to organise training sessions, coaches.

“The better organised you are, the better you’re going to be. That’s not what I enjoy about the game. I enjoy going out and letting it flow. I’m involved in our own club at the moment with the underage.

“I love going down to the field and a young lad at the start of the year isn’t able to hit the ball off his weak hand but by the end of it, you might see him at the end of a training session and he puts the ball over the bar and you give him the thumbs up or a clap on the back. And he’s smiling going off home; that’s what I love.

“I’m after diving into the whole world of the underage in Tullaroan. It’s not trying to give back to the club – I just love it. You’d nearly know every young lads date of birth at this stage from three years of age until 15 or 16.

“That’s the world I love and I couldn’t see myself ever leaving it… I don’t ever see myself getting into management.”

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Hurling and camogie