Walter Walsh abides by Brian Cody’s blueprint
Kilkenny forward eager to remain on upward curve after strong showing last season
Walter Walsh in action against Clare. Walsh played in all of Kilkenny’s league and championship games last year. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Every team has their own ambition going into Allianz Hurling League, and for Kilkenny it’s about ending the drought. After three successive league titles their 2015 campaign dried up before the play-offs and no one in Kilkenny will fancy a repeat of that.
No one will be making any excuses either, least of all their manager Brian Cody. Their 2016 campaign gets underway on Sunday against the Waterford team which grabbed the league spotlight last season, winning the title outright from Division 1B. Kilkenny will be without several members of their All-Ireland-winning squad, including the injured Ger Aylward and the retired Richie Power, although a team in transition they most certainly are not.
“Well transition means change,” Cody noted, in the aftermath of last September’s All-Ireland win, his 11th in 17 years. “We’re all in transition, really. If you’re not, then you’re standing still. So transition is part and parcel of life, of sport and of team sport in particular.
“Because team sport is made up of individuals, and individuals come and go, get form and lose form. And the team ethos doesn’t have to be in transition, but because of the flux of individuals within that thing, transition is part and parcel of it. But it’s not a bad thing.”
It’s just some teams appear to do transition better than others, and no one does it better than Kilkenny. Both Aylward (a 2015 All Star in his debut season) and Power (a former two-time All Star) leave a considerable hole in the Kilkenny forward line, but at the same time that allows players such as Walter Walsh to further cement their place and take on a greater leadership role.
Up for grabs
“Ger certainly had an excellent year last year, a superb hurler,” says Walsh. “I actually went to the same school with him, Good Counsel, in Wexford, so always knew he was an excellent talent. It’s hard to know how it will change the dynamic of our forwards. There are going to be places up for grabs, but whoever gets Ger’s position will need the same work-hard attitude.
“Richie Power was an unbelievable player. You saw the tweets about him, from some of the players that played with him, the likes of Eddie Brennan, Henry Shefflin. They were saying about his vision – he was so good to pick out a player and give that pass. And totally unselfish.
“He was the complete player, really. It’s devastating to see him retire. You’d miss Richie in at training as well. You could learn so much from him, and getting to play with him, it was a real pleasure.”
Aylward suffered a cruciate tear last month playing for his club Glenmore, and won’t see any further action in 2016. As a team Kilkenny have yet to see action, sitting out the Walsh Cup (the county fielded an under-21 team instead), although Walsh still expects them to hit the ground running at Walsh Park on Sunday
“We’ve been back since early January, back into the swing of things and it’s like we never left training. Sunday will tell a lot though. The strongest team will probably go out to play Waterford because it’s a very tough challenge.”
Walsh speaks with a greater confidence about his own game now, and for good reason. After his famous debut in the 2012 All-Ireland final replay (his 1-13 earning him the man of the match) he has slowly earned himself a reputation for consistency. And he’s confident about improving again in 2016.
“It’s about setting yourself little targets,” he explains, “little goals that you try to achieve and improve yourself, year-in, year-out. And last year was the complete year for me. I played all of the league games, all of the championship, so it felt more rewarding for me. Obviously, the end result is an All-Ireland, and whether you’re playing or not, that’s what you want. But on a personal level it definitely was rewarding for me having played all year.
“But the same as last year, after we won the All-Ireland in 2014, you just move on. There’s no point looking back on your career. I think if you’re looking back you’re going to get yourself in some bother, whereas if you’re always looking forward to the next game, next year, it’s going to be positive.”