Whenever one meets hurling followers from outside the county bounds, you get opinion, you get speculation, and you get plenty of hyperbole. But because of the reputation, and the thundering record, you get inquisition about many players.
Questions abound. What is he like? Is he popular among fans? How often would he train? What kind of a clubman is he?
And so it goes on.
If I had a Euro for every time people sought answers for the above shopping list about flying wing-back Tommy Walsh, I would sort the national debt. I love talking about one of my favourite hurling legends.
It says something about the lad when we can, with justification, attribute the legendary status before or after his name, and him not finished his twenties. We don’t need to wait when time has created distance between the exploits and the man.
There are so many elements to an All-Ireland hurling final appearance than just a match to the flying bomb wearing the number five, the red helmet, and the oozing passion for the game he was bred to love.
Are you getting tired going up for yet another All-Ireland final?
Family hugely supportive
“Not in the slightest. I only wish that this magical run was only starting,” he smiled. “This time my one regret is that time is now the enemy. But we play the cards we are dealt, and after the drubbing in the Leinster final, it is great that we got the chance to get back on to the horse. Now we find ourselves in another All-Ireland final, and that’s mighty.”
For a lad that joined the panel some 10 years ago, surely the demands, the constraints, certainly on the married lads, must create some negatives. Surely, again the married lads must feel at times that they are sacrificing too much of quality time with their partners, their children, and that maybe the price is too high.
“I must say that my family are hugely supportive, and they, like me, would realise that life will not always be like this,” answered Tommy. “It is a very short career, and we in Kilkenny have been enormously lucky. The vast majority of the lads are single. But you must understand that success breeds success, and when you win an All-Ireland like we did last year, it gives everyone a hunger.
“That hunger carries us over the Winter months, so that when we get back into training the memories of the previous year are a terrific incentive. Success, or the chance of success is a tremendous motivator. Why would you not want more of something so terrific as we have had for the past 10 or 12 years?
Tommy Walsh is a proud man. He is so well grounded, and outside of the brouhaha, hype and public persona that is so integral in the life of a multi-medalled All-Ireland hurler, particularly on the run to the final, many other influences come into play, well away from the central issues.
Betimes, Tommy, a very grounded person, often reminds me of the great Lester Piggott.
His carefree attitude, his baby-faced features, and his free-spirited displays endear him to Irish mothers up and down the country. He still has the air and disposition of a lovable rogue. He takes the hits, rolls around like an Indian rubber ball, and comes up smiling. His many admirers groan with worry when he is felled. They greet his rising with peals of relief.
Motives and ambitions
Putting the broad question about his motives, and ambitions once the feadóg rings, he is quick to point out the forces that drive his every effort.
“All players will tell you about the team ethic, and how you are playing for the lads, the jersie, and the county,” he opened. “And there is nothing wrong with that. In addition to those, there are other driving factors closer to home, and every player will also have those, although they might not want to go public on them.
“Every player wants to be the best there is on the day. Every player will have different thoughts on the day. I will think of my own family and what it will mean to them. My wife Marlis, my mother and father, the lads, my grannie will all feature at some stage in my thoughts. I will have a thought about my grandparents, and particularly mam’s father, Paddy Grace.
“When I was growing up Tullaroan were winning county titles and getting into semi-finals and that. Everyone in the parish was thrilled. So it is hugely important that they have somebody carrying the green and white in an All-Ireland. The support out there for us all has been phenomenal. We are very conscious of what it means to all in Tullaroan. I think too of the older lads that are no longer with us, and I’m sure they are proud too wherever they are.”
‘Church’ will be a proud man Tommy?
We are talking about Dick Walsh, endearingly referred to as ‘Church’. He is known the length and breath of the land. It is claimed that he had three religions....Tullaroan hurling, Fianna Fail and his church.
“Ah yeh,” Tommy smiled. “He is now over 94, and anytime I meet him on the street in Tullaroan he would always have the encouraging word, the bit of advice and the good wish. He is such a part of Tullaroan folklore, and that is my folklore, because I am first and foremost a very proud and privileged Tullaroan man.
“He will be the first to meet me, win or lose, after the game when I get home. A great Tullaroan man.”
Will the Leinster final experience have any relevance?
“We were well beaten that day, and you would hope that we have learned something from it,” he said. “Galway are a very good team, with fast players who can play in lots of places. The loss will definitely be a factor in that players can be motivated to prevent a repeat.”
On the run in to the final, speculation will be widespread. All sorts of projections will be mooted. Systems and game plans will be analysed to death. Opinion will have one or other the winner for a million reasons.
Tommy Walsh doesn’t get involved.
“For sure,” he offered. “The All-Ireland final is a stand-alone game. What happened before it won’t matter. There are no back doors anymore. It is a winner-take-all game. No matter what people say, there is no doubt that the two best teams in the country play in the All-Ireland final, and the best team wins it.”
One point on the right side will do you on Sunday, Tommy?
“A half point will do me, if its on our side,” he smiled.
And the ‘Church’ would be happy too?
“I was at mass last Sunday with my father (Mick), and who came in beside us but ‘Church’”, he rolled on. “When he heard me talking, that ended the mass, and for most of the people around. His wife, Kitty (84) was scowling over at us, but it made no difference. Hurling talk had to be done, and it was hurling all the way.
“Yes, he would be delighted.”