Kilkenny attacker Walter Walsh hasn’t exactly joined the jet set, but he has extended his sporting interests beyond Gaelic games into the world of horse racing.
The Tullogher-Rosbercon clubman couldn’t be said to have thrown himself headlong into the sport of kings, although he has a general interest.
Walsh’s move could be classed as a baby step.
He has a share in a race horse in a syndicate of 20 that includes former Good Counsel (New Ross) school colleagues and Leinster and Irish rugby star, Tadhg Furlong.
Walsh and Furlong were teammates on a New Ross under-19 rugby side that won the Leinster League some years ago, with the Kilkenny star playing at No. 10 or sometimes 15. Walsh was even the place kicker on the team.
On Sunday Walter Walsh will head to Croke Park for an All-Ireland final with his beloved Kilkenny. In September, Tadhg Furlong will be in Japan playing with Ireland in the rugby World Cup.
There was a time when Walsh might have drifted into the rugby world, but hurling caught hold of his heart and on Sunday against Tipperary he will be chasing his fourth All-Ireland winners medal.
“I loved to play all sports as a young lad,” he revealed when looking back on his sporting career.
“There was a time when rugby was my number one. Then it was seasonal. It was rugby during the winter and hurling in the summer.”
The last game of rugby he played produced an under-19 Leinster club league winners medal against Enniscorthy.
“We had a great team,” Walter reckoned, with Furlong one of the ace forwards.
Did he ever wonder about the direction their careers took, and especially now with Furlong heading to the rugby World Cup?
“Aw sure, it’s not bad being in an All-Ireland final,” Walter smiled. “Tadgh has made huge strides in his career.
“What he has achieved is great for him and New Ross and I hope he has a really good World Cup. He has the ability to stand out, and I hope he does.”
Furlong, he insisted, was a big supporter of the GAA and Wexford, and he was “a real nice fellow.”
“What he is doing in rugby and being recognised on a world stage is fantastic. I wish him well,” he added.
By the way, that horse - named Cerberus - is in training with Joseph O’Brien. Walsh hasn’t seen Cerberus race yet, and he doesn’t have time to get to meetings, but he is hopeful.
The hurling career of the towering Tullogher Rosbercon man has been littered with gold.
It was 2008 when he made the decision to take the hurling road when minor team manager, Richie Mulrooney gave him a call into the squad.
He had never played with Kilkenny at under-age level before that. He won an All-Ireland that year and he never looked back.
Perhaps the most remarkable event in his career was when he was called into the Kilkenny senior team for the All-Ireland final replay against Galway in 2012. He hadn’t been in the squad up to the Leinster final, and he walked away with the ‘Man of the Match’ award in the All-Ireland.
He recalled he was brought into the match day panel of 26 or 30 for the All-Ireland quarter-final that season after Galway beat Kilkenny in the Leinster final. He thought he was in making up the numbers at training.
Next, on the Friday night before the All-Ireland final replay, his name was on the team sheet when it was revealed after training.
“I was extremely shocked,” Walsh recalled. “We knew before the replay there would probably be changes, but I didn’t think I would be one of them. I was just delighted to be on the panel.
“You always hope you might be brought on, but to start caught me by surprise, definitely. I hadn’t played with Kilkenny so it was a shock. I was nearly embarrassed.
“I didn’t know where to look. I looked twice at the sheet. That was the first I knew of being in the team.”
He classed what happened afterwards as “lucky”. He was part of a team with role models around him - Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney and so on.
“They were the leaders,” he insisted. “Henry was brilliant again. I was playing corner-forward. When you have lads like that around you it makes it so much easier.”
If ever a player’s senior career was launched in a blaze of glory it was Walter Walsh’s. He scored 1-3 that day.
It wasn’t easy to live up to the reputation, and although he won the Man of the Match award the next time he played for Kilkenny which was in the next championship - he missed the League through injury - he soon learned the vicious nature or survival at this level.
It was about hard work; all about hard work.
He said it was great to be back in the All-Ireland final, and against all the odds at that.
“When I came on the panel it was a sort of the norm to be in the All-Ireland final,” he smiled. “It was nearly expected, not that we took it for granted or anything. Definitely since 2016 and not being there we are relishing the opportunity to have a chance to win.”
The Cats head into the final against Tipperary on the back of a supreme effort in the semi-final against Limerick, then defending MacCarthy Cup holders,
“After the final whistle against Limerick the excitement was huge,” said Walsh, who teaches Ag Science and biology in his alma mater, Good Counsel. “Beating the All-Ireland champions was massive. Most people thought they would beat us. It was great to beat Limerick.”
Walsh was one of the walking wounded in the Kilkenny camp this season, and it wasn’t until around Leinster final time that he felt his fitness level was decent. Largely it has been a trying season for Kilkenny, but he saw things changing in the second half of the All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork.
“The way we played in the second half of the Cork game gave us confidence,” he felt.
“Winning told us we were good enough to be in an All Ireland final, good enough to compete with the best. Cork are a serious team and they have unbelievable players, so to beat them improved our confidence.
“Tipperary are a bit like ourselves going into the final,” he continued. “They lost their provincial final, and it could be argued that their form in the semi-final against Wexford was their best of the season.
“Who can take the next step in the final? Both will be giving it their absolute best, but we hope it will be us,” he said when he signed off.
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