Winners’ dressingroom a lonely old place for a sub – just ask icons Kelly and Walsh

Pity the out of form, the out of favour, or the out of time, but the championship goes on

John Allen wonders what it was like for the much-honoured  Tommy Walsh to have remained  on the bench throughout  last Sunday’s Allianz  Hurling League final against Tipperary. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

John Allen wonders what it was like for the much-honoured Tommy Walsh to have remained on the bench throughout last Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League final against Tipperary. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho


So the league final is over and we have proof positive that Kilkenny are back in pole position as championship approaches.

Tipperary have also shown signs t they are back in the “contenders”corner. While very disappointed to have lost Sunday’s thrilling final they have to be happy with their progress over the past number of weeks. They seem to have sorted the goal leakage that was causing them so much grief during the league proper and have, in Patrick “Bonner” Maher, a player they can’t afford to be without.

The league final itself was a fantastic advertisement for hurling and for the championship season which is already under way. What value for the 21,000 followers present in this, the most iconic of hurling venues. Some 55 scores with the last puck of the game deciding the issue. This game was played at near enough to championship tempo by the two counties who have renewed and reinvigorated their intense rivalry which all augurs well for the rest of the season.

All the Division 1A teams have a fair idea where they stand or sit in the championship pecking order but not so all the players.

Once greats
Spare a thought for two of the once greats of the game, Tipperary’s Eoin Kelly and Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh.

Kelly, the hero of many a battle, seems to be going or gone out of favour with management. I imagine him being extremely frustrated leaving Thurles on Sunday. No game time again and to make matters worse Eamonn O’Shea replaces a number of his starting forwards and brings some of those replaced back on in extra-time.

The Tipperary management made seven substitutions but Kelly stayed on the bench for the entire 90 minutes .

Surely the writing is on the wall for this icon of Tipperary hurling. I can imagine the chatter racing through Walsh’s head in the dressingroom last Sunday evening in Thurles . . . “I don’t know where I stand now. He brought on only one back sub and it wasn’t me again. Not getting any game time at all in the last number of games is very disappointing. I don’t know if I’ll even be on the match day 26 the next day”.

It’s such a hollow feeling being in the winning dressing room as a panel member after a final victory but not having played any part. The noise and the high jinks are different on winning occasions . . . “I’m not going to shower. Why would I?”

No call to the interview area for the subs. It’s a lonely aul place for a sub, this winners’ dressing room . . . “Should I cut my losses and get out, or put down the head, suck it up, train like a dog and hope to impress himself?”

Both players, it seems, are now faced with a sporting dilemma of sorts. Should they go before they are pushed or hang in there and hope that they will find favour with management again? Obviously there is a belief that holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go and then do it.

Moving on in life is never easy when you find it hard to let go of what you’ve been so attached to and leave it behind, when there remains in your heart a large flicker of the passion still burning brightly for this wonderful game.

These players have given their lives to hurling. They’ve always been automatics in every team they’ve played with. They are among the best hurling has ever produced. It’s such a pity they find themselves in the “surplus to requirements” category right now.

While I’m not privy to their relationship with their respective managers or to their current standing in their squads I’m aware their situation is the subject of discussion by the wider hurling public who would like to see a happy ending for these legends.

Then again maybe there will be a happy ending in Croke Park on All-Ireland final Sunday when one of them will be back in the winners’ enclosure and afterwards heading to the media room to speak on the importance of hanging in there.

All wrong
Or maybe I’m reading this all wrong. Wasn’t Tommy all smiles in Croke Park on Tuesday at a product promotion? Maybe he has some inside information and will be the first name on the championship team sheet come June.

But for most players this pre-championship time is one of hope. It’s an exciting time to be a hurler. The winter slog is over. The smell of the cut grass is in the air again. Training begins and ends in daylight. For some counties there’s even a trip abroad to warm places like Spain and Portugal for a training week.

For the new young players it’s even more exciting. To be sharing the dressingroom, as an equal, with many players, that up to now, were your heroes is a dream.

Most counties get their own club championships off the ground, with the inter-county managements keeping the fingers crossed that all their players will make it through uninjured. Unfortunately for Waterford the pre-championship injury list is growing, with Philip O’Mahony definitely out and Maurice Shanahan and Stephen Molumphy very doubtful for next Sunday week’s Munster championship opener with Cork.

However, with or without the out-of-commission, the out-of-favour, the out-of-form or the out-of-bounds, the show will go on. Lets hope it’s as good as last year’s.