Kilkenny hurling star, Tommy Walsh, is in a wonderfully happy and satisfying place these times. A glittering career that has already coughed up eight All-Ireland winners medals is moving on to the next challenging chapter....and then there is fatherhood, writes John Knox.
Ah yes, a different dimension in life!
“Everyone is happy and delighted,” he insisted......when speaking with boyish enthusiasm about the birth of his son, Finn.
“I feel that I am a lucky man to have landed in this era of Kilkenny hurling,” he said......when speaking with conviction about his inter-county career that is about to move into a 12th season.
Tommy and his wife, Marlis are enjoying life after the birth of their first baby over the Christmas holidays.
“He was two months old there on Tuesday,” Tommy said with to the day precision when speaking about their bundle of joy. “He is very healthy and he is getting very strong. All is good so far.”
So, how are he getting on with the night feeds?
“Grand,” he smiled. “Yes! I don’t do them before training. Marlis looks after that when I am training.”
For him it is a double blast of training these times......with Kilkenny and learning to cope with baby Finn.
“Ah, it is great,” Tommy gushed. “It is a wonderful experience having a child. You would never be able to prepare yourself for it. When it happens it changes everything. It is all for the better.”
Liked the name
The name was taken from a baby book, nothing particular, nothing nostalic. Both parents liked the name and that was that.
And so down to the business of the day, and what brought us together in Nowlan Park. Glanbia were announcing the continuance for another three years of their sponsorship arrangement with Kilkenny hurling.
Tommy Walsh may be a lot longer on the hurling road than many would imagine, but he is looking forward to pulling on the colours again. He is bubbling with enthusiasm, actually.
Can’t wait for season
“I am looking forward to another season,” he assured. “We can’t wait for it. It has been a long time coming because we haven’t played any hurling yet this year. We are looking forward to the first round of the National League.
“We have done a good bit of fitness work in January and February. Now we can’t wait to do a bit of hurling.”
As always there were great expectations in Kilkenny. Fans fed on a heavy diet of victories always wanted to sneak one more big win.
“The, if we could only win this one I would be happy”, feeling from All-Ireland time has morphed into a “let’s go again” attitude. Well, the attitude is the same in the players camp.
“You always hope to do well, and this year will be no different,” insisted Tommy, who said he was feeling great after the long break since hurling finished for him last October.
“We have had over three months off so the appetite is there again,” he continued. “The hunger is there again.”
For someone like him who has been around a long time, the three months plus break was plenty to replenish body, mind and soul. He was feeling refreshed and was ready to blast away again.
“Definitely,” was the simple response when that suggestion was put to him. ”In the off season we do very little. We take it handy. Then come January or February you can’t wait to get out and back to the field to do a bit of training.
“The minute you rejoin the lads in the squad you get the feeling of enthusiasm off them. We have been lucky, I suppose, because we have been so successful. We always have a chance of winning. When you have a chance of winning something, it brings more enthusiams to the effort to try to win more.
Hope for success
“We know when we train hard we have a chance of winning an All-Irleand. That is definitely the case with us at the moment. When we go back training, we know we can be among the contenders. That is a lift. You put it all in then in the hope that there will be success at the end of the road.
“There is no magic formula about winning with Kilkenny. You prepare as best you can. Brian (Cody) never talks about last year. This year is a new year. We are not looking to the championship. We are looking to the League and the first match.
“If you look one match too far ahead, you can get caught and be beaten. We saw that in the Leinster final against Galway last season. They beat us well. That can happen to any team at any time. That was a warning to us.”
The harsh lesson from that Leinster final reverse helped “keep the heads clued in”, he insisted. The experience showed that any team could be beaten at any time. It was important to have the heads right for every match.
“I think it is still a learning curve for us even if we are on the road a long time,” he offered. “That Leinster final against Galway brought us down to earth. It was a lesson not to be overlooked or forgotten.”
The demands, the pressures, didn’t matter to Tommy. He loves being a Kilkenny hurler.
“When you love the game you keep going,” was the way he put it. “We have been lucky to be winning. We sampled that unreal feeling that goes with winning at the end of the season many times over the last 10 years. That helps keep us going. We really enjoy ourselves when we win.
“It would be different, harder to come back, if we were being beaten regularly or every year,” he continued. “I am a lucky man to have arrived in this era in Kilkenny. I love playing with Kilkenny. Everyone loves winning. I am no different.
“I thank my lucky stars every day I play hurling that we have a County Board that is fully behind us; we have a management team that is absolutely top notch and we have a great group of players who luckily came along at the same time. We are definitely blessed.
Thank lucky stars
“If any of those things wasn’t there, we might not have enjoyed half the success we have. I thank my lucky stars. I will ride this wave as far as I can. All the lads are the same.”
He knows that some day it will all come to an end. He referenced Noel Hickey, who retired from the inter-county game some weeks ago. The announcement was a big disappointment to Tommy, who soldiered with Hickey for years.
“When you see lads retiring it is sad,” he said with feeling. “You try and keep it going as long as you can.”
To Walsh, Hickey was “brilliant”. He looked up to the Dunnamaggin man from the day he joined the Kilkenny set-up. He never lost one iota of that respect
“He gave everything in training,” he said of the man who departed with nine All-Ireland winners medal in his stash. “He gave everything in every match. He never held back. We all looked up to him. If you talk to any of the players on the panel they will tell you the same thing.”
Meanwhile, Galway await in Salthill on Sunday. Walsh has the itch. He can’t wait for the big throw-in.