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Dublin: 3 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Analysis: What does Donnchadh Walsh bring to Kerry and where will Paul Galvin fit in?

Kerry open their Munster championship campaign against Tipperary next Sunday.

JAMIE WALL KNOWS all about trying to curb the influence of wing-forwards in Gaelic football. A wing-back on victorious Cork minor and U21 football teams, he salutes one of the most under-rated practitioners in the country.

Colm Cooper, Paul Galvin and Donnchadh Walsh Paul Galvin and Donnchadh Walsh before last year's All-Ireland quarter-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

UNLESS YOU’VE BEEN living under a rock for the past fifteen years, or Kilkenny, or perhaps a rock in Kilkenny, you are well aware that the role of the modern day wing forward in Gaelic Football has been completely revolutionized.

The days of a traditional six v six formation are long gone with the modern day 10 and 12 now expected to sweep, link, and chip in on the scoreboard.

As a wing-back, the contemporary number 10 wins breaks around his own half back line, gets lost in the flood, and pops up behind you, leaving you cursing, out of breath, and worst of all, running towards your own goal.

Graveyard Shift

It has become possibly the most demanding, often least rewarding position on the field, or as I referred to it on any occasion I was asked to do a job up there – ‘The Graveyard Shift.’

I laid the blame squarely at the door of a certain Mr. Brian Dooher, who in essence, was the perfect wing forward. Later on, another pesky Ulster team produced the McHugh brothers, but while this tactic is often lazily seen as the antithesis of ‘pure football’, it was actually a Kerry man who emerged to define the position.

Ryan McHugh Ryan McHugh in action for Donegal in the recent Division 1 league semi-final. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

The man many loved to hate, and many more of us simply loved, Paul Galvin.

The ‘Paul Galvin role’ as it has come to be known, is now among the most important positions on the football field. It encompasses the role of pseudo centre back, link man, assister-in-chief, and, when you’re doing it right, finisher.

On a team that celebrates the ‘system’ like Donegal, Donnchadh Walsh would be the centre piece of analysis, and not just an afterthought. So here comes my keynote statement – Donnchadh Walsh is Kerry’s most important player.

No more patronising platitudes about how hard he works and how vital a cog he is in the wheel.

Axle

Donnchadh Walsh is the axle on which the Kerry wheel turns. Defensively, Walsh positions himself in the pocket around the half-back line, adding a layer of protection, and provides the extra comfort to those around him with the Kingdom holding Cork, Galway, and Donegal all to just 12 scores in the 2014 championship.

Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath with Donnchadh Walsh Donnchadh Walsh in action against Donegal's Neil McGee and Paddy McGrath Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Offensively, in last year’s championship Kerry consistently beat teams in terms of possessions. 42 possessions to 34 against Donegal and a staggering 42-26 stat versus Cork.

Kerry converted 80% of their 50 possessions against Mayo into shots, while against Cork this figure was an even more impressive, 90%.

In modern day football just over 20% of attacks originate from a team’s own third, this being the very area that the dropping Walsh begins his forays. It is no longer such a stretch to measure his importance in the same leagues as the more prolific O’ Donoghue’s and Gooch Cooper’s of this world.

Paul Geaney, Shane Enright, Michael Geaney and Donnchadh Walsh celebrate Donnchadh Walsh celebrates Kerry's All-Ireland final win last year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

And most importantly under the graft and grit, and what – to much frustration often goes unheeded and always unheralded – there is a man who can play ball with the best of them.

His one on one finish vs Cluxton in 2013, and his consistent 30 yard delivery to O’ Donoghue shows a master of many trades, and not merely a Jack of one.

As I’ve mentioned however, his is possibly the most physically demanding role on the football pitch today, and as such, the most draining.

Lucky

Kerry were lucky to survive a third quarter nine point swing last year against Mayo in Croke Park and now more than ever it has become a 21 man game.

Turning 31 on the third of July, Walsh has many years to offer the green and gold, but perhaps this is where we may see the renaissance of Paul Galvin.

At 35 it is highly unlikely that Galvin will be anything other than an impact sub for the reigning All Ireland champions, but one need only look to Kevin McManamon to know that subs win games.

Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Paul Galvin Kerry boss Eamonn Fitzmaurice and Paul Galvin. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

As the shadow boxing comes to a close, and the real championship commences at HQ, it’s quite possible to suggest Walsh will empty the tank as usual, to be replaced with a like for like replacement by the very man who made the role his own.

As Kerry bid to emulate their 2007 retention of Same Maguire, the first since Cork in 1990, don’t expect Fitzmaurice to show his hand too early.

Know this however, it’s a strong one. There’s great importance in being Donnchadh, and Kerry may just have two.

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About the author:

Jamie Wall

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