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'We were kind of wrapped in cotton wool. We all want to be on par with the lads' - Kilkenny star

All-Ireland winning defender Grace Walsh is pleased with camogie’s rule changes for the 2020 league.

Kilkenny camogie star Grace Walsh.
Kilkenny camogie star Grace Walsh.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

KILKENNY STAR DEFENDER Grace Walsh has welcomed the camogie rule changes that have been introduced on a trial basis for the 2020 National League. 

After a steady stream of criticism from current and former players about the stop-start nature of matches, the Camogie Association have established several new rules, some which cover the areas of contact, persistent fouling, dropping the hurley and the handpass goal.

While Tullaroan ace Walsh has been vocal about the issue in the past, she’s not had the chance to play a match which abides by the changes after their Division 1 clash with Waterford fell foul to Storm Ciara at the weekend.

She’s got a taste of it all in training — though is “carrying a bit of a knock at the moment” so wasn’t available for that postponed Déise clash — and has noticed a difference through the adjustment period.

Conscious efforts are being made in the Cats camp to be more physical, to stop dropping the hurley intentionally and to abolish handpass goals. It’s difficult, she reports, but it’s an enjoyable challenge.

“What they were trying to do in training was blow frees for any of the new rules if we weren’t doing it right,” she says. “It has been grand, it is a bit more physical now. People are a bit sorer after training these days.”

There is some ambiguity around the increased physicality, and contact rule which reads: “A player may now use minimal contact on an opponent’s body from side-on, once they are making a reasonable effort to gain possession of the ball.”

It’s to the referee’s discretion so it’s “hard to know” how that will be judged, Walsh notes. Come their first competitive match against Clare on 23 February, all will be clearer.

People are trying to be more physical, getting used to taking the knocks as well as giving them, I suppose. But it’s something to look forward to.

“I’d say it will be fierce tough. You can be rough in training, but once you get out onto the pitch against another team in a proper game, it’s a different kettle of fish.”

“I think it’s a class rule that you can’t hand pass into the goal,” she offers. “Because it’s not really a good skill to be hand passing the ball into the goal. It just might show off the skills a bit more.”

grace-walsh Walsh in last year's All-Ireland final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The 26-year-old is just pleased camogie is being promoted in a positive light now, and that it’s becoming more and more like hurling.

At the end of the day, we all want to be on par with the lads,” she nods, “Every year, women’s sport is improving. Camogie, we’re becoming more physical, stronger, faster, more skillful. And you want to be able to showcase that for the games.

“Because if you’re showcasing how good the game can actually be played, you’ll have more support coming to watch the games, and then they’ll be more on par with the lads.”

She agrees that beforehand, camogie players were almost being wrapped in cotton wool, and they’re more than capable of playing a more physical game.

Serious hours are spent on strength and conditioning — former manager Ann Downey always kept her side indoors at this time of year, but new boss Brian Dowling has them out on the pitch hurling now — and players want to reap those rewards on the field.

“I don’t know what it was, but the last [few] years we were kind of wrapped in cotton wool,” she continues. “It was a stop-start game. It wasn’t that enjoyable to watch, but even last year, the rules hadn’t changed but it was more physical and it was let flow.

You could see how much more people were attending the games, and how exciting they actually were to watch. It was more free-flowing, and the refs were probably told to let it go a bit more. It was just more enjoyable then, to play and to watch.

“It’s nice that things are changing. Camogie, in fairness, the last two years have really made a step forward. We’re stepping in the right direction now, whether the rules work or whether they don’t, we’re still going in the right direction.

“It would probably be nice if, after the league, they reviewed it and continued it for championship because it will be hard now to go from playing those rules back to the way it was. But it’s a step in the right direction.”

As of now, they’re in on a trial basis, with potential proposals for permanent rule changes then made at Annual Congress in 2021. 

For now, it’s all about the hurling. While Walsh won’t give much away on her injury concern — “I couldn’t be telling you that, then my markers would know my weak point” — she assures that she’ll be back in the mix for their meeting with the Banner. 

ann-downey Former Kilkenny manager Ann Downey. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It will be Dowling’s first game at the helm, after taking the reins from Downey. The two-time Kilkenny All-Ireland winner was in as a selector last year so there isn’t a huge change, but Walsh is impressed with his influence as the main man.

“He has been savage so far. So organised, so approachable, so easy to work with. Then you have Tommy Shefflin, he wasn’t with us fully at the beginning because he was with Ballyhale. He seems like a bit of craic anyway, but a good trainer so far.

“Philly Larkin is with us and Ray Challoner from last year, so it is a nice mix. A very, very nice mix. All the lads get on great, so far, so good.”

And as for Downey, the Cats great has moved on and has reportedly taken charge of Kilkenny men’s club outfit Ballyragget. Walsh was in no way surprised by the move.

“That woman can’t sit down,” she grins. “She loves the game. I would have been surprised if she didn’t do anything for the year. She just lives and breathes camogie and hurling.

“I think it’s class for her, I’d say best of luck to the lads training under her! She’s tough but I’d say they’ll all have a lot of respect for her. I think she’ll do great things with them.”

“Everything is changing and do you know, it’s not just going to be men anymore,” she adds on the 12-time All-Ireland winners managerial appointment in the men’s game.

“It’s going to be men and women. It is brilliant because you could have a woman like Ann Downey, who’d be so much better than any man — like she could do a better job than any man with that Ballyragget team — and I just think it’s brilliant for the future of women’s and men’s sport, that we’re going to be coming together as well.

“It won’t matter if you’re camogie or a hurling manager.”

Kilkenny defender Grace Walsh has teamed up with Avonmore Protein Milk to launch their new premium protein milk, Avonmore Protein Gold.

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Emma Duffy

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