Tommy Walsh: ‘I wasn't sure if I'd wear the Kerry jersey again’
The Kingdom prodigy – now aged 30 – is glad to be back after a three-year absence
Galway’s Eoghan Kerin and Tommy Walsh of Kerry exchange words during their Allianz Football League Division 1 match at Tuam Stadium on Sunday. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
For such an exuberant talent, there has always been a what-if element about Tommy Walsh’s Gaelic football life.
A Kingdom prodigy, All-Ireland winner and young footballer of the year at the age of 20, Walsh’s sojourn in Australian Rules and a subsequent series of injury setbacks seemed to have cut short a brilliant career.
Somehow, over a decade has passed since his debut, but the athletic frame and spiky blonde hair was a throwback for Kerry supporters who got to see his return, after a three-year absence, in Tuam stadium.
He last started a game for Kerry in February 2016 and elected to leave the squad that April at the conclusion of the league. Here he was on Sunday – a senior figure now in a hive of Peter Keane’s minor prodigies. He didn’t score but it went well, and little wonder he was smiling coming off the field.
“It feels great,” Walsh said afterwards. “I suppose I was not sure if I would ever wear the Kerry jersey again, so to be back out there is great. It is not about me, it is about a really good victory over Galway.”
It wasn’t about him but, nonetheless, the match will represent a significant day in his sporting life. It doesn’t take long for the Kerry strobe-light of attention to move onto new faces, new names. Walsh is 30 years old and he had reached the stage where he simply didn’t know if he would get the opportunity again.
“I was never going out with my club to try and get back in the Kerry squad. I was happy with where I was . . . playing football with Strand Road and that was enough for me. But then Peter [Keane, the Kerry manager] got on to me and I was surprised to get the call, but maybe the next time they will be ringing me is to collect the footballs. You miss days like this, you miss the game days. Having watched a lot of these guys playing together at underage over the last few years and feeling that I could still contribute . . . it is hard watching, so I’m delighted to be back in the mix.”
Keane seems equipped with the kind of football pragmatism that wouldn’t allow him to not at least see what Walsh’s second act might bring to Kerry. The signs on Sunday were encouraging: the physical strength, the aerial ability, the leadership were there from the beginning.
“He didn’t do too bad at all, did he?” was Keane’s post-match observation.
“He got a great couple of balls in front of the Galway dugout in the second half. It is great to have him back, to have him as an option. His handling was very good – he handled a lot of nice ball in the first half; low ball into him that he was able to spray around.”
All of this, though, was on a heavy field; it remains to be seen whether the hard running of bone-dry summer games still suits Walsh. But Gaelic football has changed significantly in the years since he was a regular fixture on Kerry teams, and he easily adapted to the fluidity of it. Walsh at times appeared as inside forward, as auxiliary midfielder and as tracking-back wing forward over the 70 minutes.
It doesn’t matter what age you are. When you are called upon you have to be able to deliver
“As the game goes on you have to adjust, as did the boys around me,” he said.
“Like Seán O’Shea went into full forward for a bit. I dropped into midfield and Mark Griffin went into the forwards so you have to be adaptable like that because most of the best teams are. We are looking at guys in different positions and you play where you have to. That is the main thing. We are not going to get carried away or anything like that. There is a young team there with a few old fellas like myself mixed in there. It is huge for guys’ experience to come up here and get games like this.”
Thing is, the Kerry Youth don’t play young. Tomás Ó Sé bounced out of a few years touring with Riverdance and onto the back page of the Kerryman with his memorable cameo on Sunday. Since dispatching Tyrone in the opening round, Kerry have been playing with the impatience of young men in a hurry.
“Absolutely . . . guys like Seán O’Shea, Tom O’Sullivan, Brian Begley . . . these are the kind of fellas that are driving it, and some of the time they are dragging the older fellas along . . . that is what you need and it doesn’t matter what age you are. When you are called upon you have to be able to deliver. And those guys are really doing that at a young age so it bodes well for the future.”
But there may still be room for a thirtysomething or two . . .