Red-letter day for veteran Walsh as Déise bid to upset Rebels
‘Brick’ set to make record championship appearance as McGrath’s men bow out
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh: will make a record 74th championship appearance when he turns out for Waterford against Cork on Sunday. Photograph: Ken Sutton/Inpho
Pride, integrity, and at least one more game for Michael “ Brick” Walsh. Manager Derek McGrath sounded gently sardonic when pressed on what his Waterford hurling team have left to play for in 2018, although that last matter certainly isn’t without good cause.
Win or lose, Sunday’s final round-robin game in the Munster hurling championship against Cork counts for nothing: Waterford won’t be progressing any further, although Cork do need to win in Thurles to ensure their place in the Munster final – depending on what happens between Limerick and Clare in Ennis.
One more game for Walsh will mark his 74th championship appearance for Waterford, and no player has gone there before. The existing all-time hurling record is 73, the number of championship appearances made by Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins, which Walsh equalled last Sunday when Waterford lost to Limerick. At age 35 Walsh isn’t yet hanging up his boots, and will make hurling history nonetheless.
“They obviously know the implications of the defeat, the championship is over,” McGrath said in the aftermath of the Limerick game.
“We are just trying to as best we can, not park it, it’s very hard to park it, but just talk about the integrity of the competition and just seeing it out in terms of how we approach it, and the seriousness of it. Albeit, it sounds contradictory to say there is nothing at stake, there’s pride, there’s Michael’s record championship appearance – 74 next week.”
It is a remarkable record on several counts, not just in terms of longevity. Walsh made his first senior appearance for Waterford in 2003, all five of his games that summer came as a substitute, and he hasn’t missed a championship game since. Walsh has also played in eight different positions during those 73 games, mostly at centre back, but some at full back, others at full forward, proving not just consistency but also reliability.
It doesn’t stop there; the Stradbally star also won four All Star awards during that period, in three different positions, and not forgetting his two football appearances for Waterford back in 2002.
The nickname “the Brick” has stood with him over the years too, Walsh once suggesting it had nothing to do with his strength, but that his older brother was known as “the Block” in school, and being the smaller, he became known as “the Brick”.
For Cummins, his 73 championship appearances weren’t unbroken, and spanned from 1995 to 2013. Third on the list is Henry Shefflin, with his 71 championship appearances, following by his Kilkenny team-mate JJ Delaney on 66. Waterford’s Tony Browne and Cork’s Christy Ring sit in joint fifth with 65 appearances each, Ring playing from 1940 to 1962.
For McGrath, meanwhile, Sunday’s game is also set to mark the end of his five-year term as Waterford manager. There was some doubt whether or not he would return in the aftermath of last September’s All-Ireland defeat to Galway, but with the full backing and encouragement of his players, he agreed to one more year.
“We haven’t made excuses for the five years, we are not going to start now,” McGrath said on Sunday, even if luck clearly wasn’t on his team’s side. Waterford were drawn to play all four of their games within 21 days, and with Walsh Park unsuitable for championships, all four games were also played away from home.
Austin Gleeson and Pauric Mahony were injured for the opening defeat to Clare, during which they lost Tadhg de Búrca, Darragh Fives and Barry Coughlan to injury, while Kevin Moran was sent off. They had Tipperary beaten in the second game only for a disputed late goal, the ball not crossing the line, helping Tipperary snatch a draw.
“It’s been a tough few weeks. No excuses, but there has been a litany of misfortune that has befallen the team. We knew we had four games in 21 days. We prepared the same as every team do, meticulously. They are good lads, solid lads. This group will move on.
“They are not going to park the disappointment immediately but they have no choice but to go on. We created every scenario, what if we are going to Cork and it’s a dead rubber? We mentioned it almost three months ago, not foreseeing it because you want to remain optimistic. You put the challenge to go to the end.”
The Tipperary County Board, meanwhile, have given their backing to manager Michael Ryan, despite the team failing to win any of their four games.
Ryan was handed a three-year extension last September, and according to a statement from the county board, “the position of the Tipperary management team is not the subject of any discussion or change” and “the management team was appointed last September for a three-year term and have the full backing and support of the county management committee.”