Jack Sherwood and Tommy Walsh have returned to make their mark for Kerry. INPHO
Back in action

Kerry's comeback duo - how Sherwood and Walsh played key roles to book All-Ireland final place

Substitutes Jack Sherwood and Tommy Walsh were central to Kerry’s victory yesterday.

NEITHER JACK SHERWOOD or Tommy Walsh won a Kerry senior football medal last year.

The pair were absent from the action on county final day in late October in Tralee when Dr Crokes were collecting their seventh title of the decade with a victory over Dingle.

Both had suffered semi-final losses earlier that month, Walsh with Kerins O’Rahilly’s and Firies man Sherwood with divisional outfit East Kerry.

But those last four exits could not conceal how they had already made their mark on the club scene in Kerry to telling effect. 

The Monday night before those semi-finals had witnessed the ratification of Peter Keane as the new Kerry football supremo. A fresh era began as he assembled his squad for 2019. The club form of Walsh and Sherwood was of a sufficiently high standard that it persuaded Keane to sound them out for recruitment.

In late April 2016 word began to filter out of Walsh’s departure from the Kerry squad. A week later on the May Bank Holiday weekend, Sherwood was cut from a setup that was freshened up before the commencement of the championship business. The pair retreated to the sanctuary of local football.

The call to return to arms came last winter and a new chapter in their respective county careers took shape as they returned to the grind of pre-season with Kerry.

And yesterday was an occasion for them to personally savour. 31-year-old Walsh and 29-year-old Sherwood, a pair of substitutes pitched into action and playing valuable roles in engineering the second-half comeback that catapulted Kerry past Tyrone and into the All-Ireland decider.

For an interview in the Munster final match programme in June, Sherwood spoke to this writer about being caught off guard when a return was mooted.

“I was surprised. It was probably on the back of a solid enough county championship with East Kerry, we went to a replay of the semi-final with Dingle. I had a chat with Peter, he proposed it to me.

“I was humming and hawing over it. I said I couldn’t really leave it down either. It is Kerry at the end of the day, so you’re always going to give it another crack. I definitely made the right decision.

“This is bonus territory really. I’d kind of written off the Kerry scenario. I think I’ve probably exceeded my own expectations in getting a good run of games in the league so hopefully it’ll be a good summer.”

Niall Sludden tackles Jack Sherwood Jack Sherwood is tackled by Tyrone's Niall Sludden. Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Sherwood had been a constant fixture for Kerry in the league and started in the final loss to Mayo. Walsh was also present from the off in that game. The clash with Galway in late February marked his first start in Kerry colours for three years.

“It’s great to be back, I’m happy to be out there again and contributing and that’s what I’m there for,” was Walsh’s post-match verdict that day in Tuam Stadium.

He produced an eye-catching contribution the week against Monaghan on an afternoon where Fitzgerald Stadium was coated in snow. But Walsh became more accustomed to the bench again this summer, his gametime consisting of second-half cameos against Clare and Meath. Sherwood started in the Munster meetings with Clare and Cork before selected on the bench for the Super 8s ties, sprung into action against Donegal and Meath.

Yesterday Kerry were a damaged outfit at the break as they trailed by four. Sherwood was brought on, along with Gavin White, to help repair the damage.

He arced over the first point of his senior championship career in the 50th minute with a stylish kick to cut the deficit to one and Walsh entered the fray moments later. Their combined input was of critical assistance to Kerry.

Diarmuid O'Connor and David Shaw celebrate with Tommy Walsh after the game Tommy Walsh celebrates Kerry's victory after the game. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Sherwood’s impact was immediate as he got involved after half-time. He supplied Paul Geaney who was fouled for an early second-half free that Sean O’Shea pointed and then sprayed a pass to Paul Murphy to change the direction of another Kerry move that culminated in a score for Geaney.

That was the start of a pattern throughout the second half. Sherwood constantly offered himself as a link man between defence and attack. Aside from the point he scored, he was involved at some stage in the build-up to six other Kerry points.

His kickpass also injected pace to the move for Kerry’s goal, spying Geaney in space and he then fed it inside for Stephen O’Brien to shoot home. He combined excellently with David Moran at midfield and deep in injury-time the pair worked an opening which released O’Brien to lobbed over a point.

Walsh hit the ground running in a powerful fashion. Within two minutes of being brought on he had laid off a hand pass for a Moran shot that tailed wide. Within four minutes he had repeated the trick and this time Moran seized the assist to snap over a point. A minute later Walsh popped off a pass for David Clifford to swing over a score. 

That set the tone and gave Tyrone’s defence plenty to consider for the rest of the game. Walsh was the perfect focal point for Kerry. He won frees and journeyed outfield to claim kickouts. His presence provided vital space for others, Clifford landing 0-3 from play during the time he had Walsh alongside him as an attacking outlet. 

The influence of the Kerry bench was pertinent until the final whistle. Their last score of the game in the 76th minute saw Walsh win possession out near the Hogan Stand, transfer it inside to Sherwood who moved the ball onto another substitute Dara Moynihan and after the Spa club man charged forward, the play concluded with Clifford lofting over a glorious point. Kerry’s starting stars had shone in their vast improvement on the first half but their reserves had proved so crucial as well.

It’s 11 years since Walsh was recognised as the best young footballer in the country and a decade since he raided the Cork defence for 0-4 in Kerry’s Sam Maguire success.

Micheal Quirke and Tommy Walsh celebrate victory Tommy Walsh celebrates Kerry's 2009 final win with Micheal Quirke. Morgan Treacy / INPHO Morgan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

It’s six years since Sherwood was introduced late on in that All-Ireland semi-final classic against Dublin, Kevin McManamon’s late goal helping to settle a pulsating clash.

Walsh had his sojourn playing Australian Rules, was hit by a horrific injury and the challenge of adapting to Gaelic football once more when he returned home. Sherwood was trying to break into a star-studded Kerry setup and injuries curtailed his ability as well.

“I took a lot more relaxed approach this year because I was there in 2013-2016 or so and put a bit more expectation on myself,” remarked Sherwood in June.

“I got a good run of games in the league. More relaxed and taking a more easy going approach to it which is helping.”

They have got their reward for sticking to their task.

And Kerry will be grateful for the contribution of their comeback duo as they get set for the considerable task of a September showpiece with Dublin.

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