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'Both of them have been outstanding' - The Kerry double act still chasing a club prize

Long-standing Kerry colleagues, David Moran and Tommy Walsh are chasing club glory with Kerins O’Rahillys in a county semi-final.

Updated Nov 20th 2021, 10:00 AM

Walsh Moran-2 Source: INPHO-The42.ie

WHEN BARRY O’SHEA was climbing the Kerry football ladder during the ‘90s, swiftly moving from an All-Ireland underage winner to the defensive when Sam Maguire was lifted in 1997, his progress was being watched closely at home in Tralee.

For one football-mad youngster, O’Shea was an ideal role model.

Back then, Tommy Walsh always stood out.

“Tommy was a freak for his age because he was just so bloody big,” recalls O’Shea.

“We were next door neighbours. I remember when I was playing with Kerry, I’d give my boots to Tommy. But sure I stopped giving him the boots when he was about 12 or 13, because he was too big.

“That’s a fact.

“When he was younger maybe people said it was just pure size but it’s not, he’s grown into a great player.”

Walsh is four months older than his compatriot David Moran. Club colleagues, rising county stars, AFL triallists and then experienced Kerry senior figures.

Their football careers have always seemed intertwined.

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“Tommy was probably always touted,” reckons O’Shea.

“David when he was very young, he probably wouldn’t have an underage prodigy at U12 or U14. His brother Brian would have been the star coming through. David kept plugging away and working at his game, he came that little bit later. He still ended up being a Kerry minor and U21, so it didn’t come that late.”

The pair both turned 33 this year. Walsh pulled the plug on his Kerry days last month, drawing a line under the pair’s inter-county narrative.

Yet there remains a significant football tale that they are central characters in.

Tomorrow Kerins O’Rahilly’s face Dr Crokes, part of a blockbuster Kerry senior semi-final weekend that has lit up the town of Tralee with three local teams featuring at this stage.

1933 was the last time the locality provided such hefty representation in the last four.

2002 stands as Kerins O’Rahilly’s last Kerry senior football title win, 2008 their most recent final appearance.

Moran and Walsh were too young for the former victory, involved in the heat of the latter agonising defeat – Mid Kerry pipping them by a point after a replay when Aidan O’Shea, Jacko’s son, rammed a late penalty to the net.

They’ve been striving to get back to a decider ever since and remain central to the hopes on Strand Road that this could be their year.

david-moran-celebrates-with-son-eli-and-tommy-walsh-alone-with-the-trophy David Moran with his son Eli and Tommy Walsh after this year's Munster final. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

*****

John Kennedy knew all about Moran and Walsh before he ever got to work with them on the football fields of the Kingdom.

The rich family lineage in the sport took care of that.

Kennedy featured in All-Ireland football final wins against Dublin during the Golden Years, starting at wing-forward in 1984 and coming on as a substitute in 1985. Sean Walsh at full-back and Ogie Moran at centre-forward were important guiding figures for a young player from North Kerry trying to make his way in a team populated by legendary characters.

“With Ogie, we knew each other from North Kerry, he was with Beale at the time. We kind of roomed together the three of us.

“I was coming into a team of legends really and it was very difficult breaking into it. The whole team were fantastic guys, but particularly Ogie and Seanie in constantly helping me out. That meant an awful lot. They made you feel so welcome.”

When he hung up the boots, Kennedy fell into different roles on the sideline. He had a regular gig at the turn of the century in coaching the North Kerry U16 team, one of two that the county enter at Munster level.

In 2004, the younger Moran and Walsh figures passed under his watch. When he took the Kerry minor side two years later and started assembling his squad, two names were already nailed down.

“You could see they’d make Kerry minors and go beyond that. They were always willing to listen. Their fathers may have been legends of the game but they were the same as everybody else.

“A lot of parents would be coaching their own lads and telling them what to do, but typical of those guys they left it to the management team. They didn’t get involved. Tommy and David wanted to make their own niche in the game. Tommy’s younger brother Barry John was the same, a fantastic forward who played Kerry minor.

“Obviously there was pressure on them because they had big footsteps to follow but they were their own men. They set their own targets. It was difficult, with the supporters there was always something more expected because their fathers being the great players they were.

“They just carried on the tradition of their fathers. Very similar in their attributes, great leaders, highly respected and they were humble fellas. That was carrying on the trait both Seanie and Ogie had.

“They’d a bagful of All-Irelands but if you didn’t know them, you wouldn’t think they’d a medal won. That typifies their attitude.”

john-kennedy 2006 Kerry minor manager John Kennedy. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

That season 15 years ago was when Moran and Walsh really emerged in the wider public consciousness.

Roscommon’s ultimate minor success was a fairytale moment with the primrose invasion of Cusack Park in Ennis, but Kerry had contributed handsomely to a gripping two-game saga.

Kennedy sketches out the impact of the Kerins O’Rahillys pair that summer, pinpointing the semi-final win over a Donegal team spearheaded by Michael Murphy, as illuminating evidence of the potential the duo had.

“The lads are still big men, but at minor level they were towering figures. Tommy was always difficult to handle, a great ball winner and tremendous skill for a big man. David was a box to box player at that level, from U16 up he had that engine to keep going, to bring others into it, he had the vision.

“We were involved in some great games that year. The only disappointing aspect was we didn’t bring the Tom Markham Cup home.

“But it’s a conveyor belt to come through in Kerry. It was inevitable the two lads would go on to don the green and gold at senior level. They went on to have two great senior careers. Soon they weren’t just there making up the numbers, they were making their mark, which was a great sign of their maturity.”

***

They swiftly blazed a trail at adult level. In 2007, Walsh was part of the Kerry squad that lifted Sam. In 2008, both fired Kerry to U21 glory at the expense of Kildare. Later that year they collectively made their presence felt on the senior stage, most tellingly in a semi-final replay over Cork when Walsh charged through for a terrific first-half goal and Moran fetched a kickout, moments after being brought on, that was the springboard for Colm Cooper’s crucial late goal.

They lost to Tyrone in the subsequent final but Walsh was still crowned Young Footballer of the Year. The following season they were celebrating in Croke Park, Walsh ransacking the Cork defence for 0-4 and Moran replacing him late on as they closed out the game.

A pair of 21-year-olds at the summit of Gaelic football.

“It’s a difficult thing to do,” says Barry O’Shea.

“I went through it myself, I was in straight after the year I was minor. People don’t realise the difference, it’s night and day really. They were exceptional for their age, physically they had the big advantage.”

***

Careers never run smoothly. If Kerry football fans planned to invest faith in that pair to shoulder the burden over the next decade of chasing All-Ireland glory, they were soon hit with a jolt.

The displays didn’t just catch the eyes of Irish sporting followers, in Australia preparations were made to attempt to prise them away.

AFL came calling, specifically in the form of St Kilda who offered them both trials. As Kerry’s club representatives in Munster, Kerins O’Rahillys took on provincial assignments in late 2009. They held off Cork champions Clonakilty in a quarter-final, Moran and Walsh playing starring roles before then jetting off to Melbourne.

tommy-walsh-and-aidan-oshea Tommy Walsh in action in the 2008 Kerry senior final.

ian-mcinerney-and-david-moran David Moran lining out in the 2009 Munster senior club final. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

Moran came home as the offer of a rookie contract never arrived and lined out in a Munster final against Kilmurry-Ibrickane, notching a brace of points. But the Clare men pipped their Tralee opponents by a point, the game ending with a flavour of controversy after a Declan Quill goal was disallowed.

Walsh stayed put in Australia, forging a life with St Kilda and Sydney Swans until the end of 2014.

“Tommy was probably the best young player in the country at the time, he was the difference between us maybe having a crack off winning an All-Ireland club and losing a Munster final,” says O’Shea, who played corner-back in that club final.

“In fairness to him, at his age and with the way it fell for him, very hard to stop a guy going and having a cut and trying his hand at professional sport. We’d all love to have done it.”

If club and county hoped to build future plans around Moran’s midfield presence, they were soon scuppered by the cruel intervention of injury.

His cruciate snapped for the first time in Inniskeen in April 2011 in a game against Monaghan, then again in a club training session in February 2012 when he was on the cusp of a comeback.

In May 2013 he came on in a challenge game where an innocuous challenge saw him tear the retina in his right eye.

“At the time, Jesus if you lost the two of them (to Australia), it would have been serious,” says O’Shea.

“But then afterwards we lost David for a long period through injury. It’s funny the way things work out. I think those injuries in one way were the best thing happened David. He’s worked so hard and come back brilliantly from them.

“Maybe it made him realise how much he loved the game. He’s been outstanding, it’s a very hard thing for inter-county players to serve two masters and be a very good club player as well, but he’s definitely been able to do that for us.

“The split season allows guys to go bald-headed for one thing and then reset and go again for the club. Before fellas were mixing in and out, and it’s nearly impossible to do.”

When Walsh landed back in Ireland at the close of 2014, his close friend had been crowned champion that September. Moran was a colossal figure at midfield, his talent flourishing as Kerry landed a national title that few had envisaged earlier in the season. He claimed his first All-Star and reacquainted with his partner in crime on the pitch, the signals for the future were positive.

But Kerry haven’t managed to wrestle Sam Maguire back since and Walsh bowed out of the inter-county game without a third medal to his credit.

Dublin’s prowess saw them dominate the sport. Walsh’s return was not plain sailing on a personal level, he dropped off the Kerry squad at the end of the 2016 league and then rejoined in early 2019. A severe hamstring injury incurred playing for Sydney Swans had also left a scar.

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The last few years have seen them battle furiously to secure a Kerry triumph, strikingly involved in critical points at the end of games.

Moran was immense in the 2019 drawn All-Ireland final but coughing up possession under siege from a bunch of Dublin players, drew attention in the post-game debates.

In November 2020 when Cork rocked Kerry with a last-gasp goal in the surreal setting of Páirc Uí Chaoimh devoid of fans, it was Moran who had seen two late shots fall short and Walsh who was closest by when Mark Keane fetched before booting home that dramatic strike.

And in August as Kerry hunted Tyrone down, desperately seeking a levelling point, it fell to Walsh to unleash the late shot that drifted wide.

If they have not climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand together since 2009, it has not devalued their overall legacy in O’Shea’s eyes.

tommy-walsh-and-david-moran The Kerry duo in action against Tyrone in 2019. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Both of them have been outstanding players at senior level. Maybe with Tommy, injury has held him back the last number of years, but he’s still had not a bad career, most fellas would take it. He’s won All-Irelands, he’s played professionally.

“Against Tyrone, David was one of the top three or four performers on the field from both teams. He was outstanding that day, so he still has it. When a guy gets around the 30 mark, they’re nearly written off in the GAA. I wouldn’t judge him by the number on his birth cert, it’d be how he’s performing and he’s still able to at a very high level.”

***

Walsh’s retirement call in October was a sign of how life has moved on. As he stressed in a recent Radio Kerry interview, different priorities have come into play.

He has recently become a Council Member of the Irish Tax Institute, coupled with his role as Head of Tax at CDS Law & Tax. Moran is a Partner in Casey Stephenson Accountants in Tralee.

They have plenty to focus on off the pitch, yet for honour lists studded with inter-county awards, there is a club statistic to be rectified.

When Kerins O’Rahillys lifted the Bishop Moynihan Cup in 1957, it capped off a golden era for the club. It was the third time the Narries had ascended to that peak in five seasons.

It would be 45 years before they soared to such heights again and they have been forced to wait since 2002 to succeed or 2008 for a final appearance

The interim has schooled them in the tricky task facing a club team contesting finals in an atmosphere where divisional outfits are commanding and a gilded club outfit like Dr Crokes have operated.

Semi-final shortcomings have occurred in 2013, 2017 and 2018, allied to a 2019 extra-time loss to the eventual kingpins East Kerry.

“I remember Morgan my brother would have been captain when we won in 2002 and was playing in ’08, that year I snapped my Achilles tendon so I missed that final,” says O’Shea.

“Morgan just said, ‘These guys think they’ll be back again next year and the year after, they don’t realise how hard this thing is to do.’

“He’s been proven right. When you get your chance, you’ve got to grasp it.

“The divisional thing makes it so difficult for clubs. That’s why I’ve so much admiration for the Crokes that they’ve done it for such a long time and been up there in so many finals (going for their 10th in 13 seasons). It’s exceptional consistency for a club. It’s remarkable.”

But with Moran at midfield and Walsh at the edge of the square, both fit and sharp and operating in the same country at the same time, Kerins O’Rahillys belief has spiked.

“It’s not often that we’ve had the two of them injury free and in the country and playing well,” says O’Shea.

“To get the two of them on the up at the same time, that’s a huge advantage to our team. You’ve one on the inside and one on the outside, which is good too.”

These days John Kennedy is an observer of the local game. Kerins O’Rahilly’s have caught his eye with Moran controlling the middle and Walsh sparkling inside, as demonstrated by his 0-6 haul divided between marks and shots from play against St Kieran’s.

They shot down Dingle last time out, now Dr Crokes increase the scale of the challenge.

“They’ve a very balanced team but Tommy’s influence is hard to calculate.

“What he always had, was he was unselfish, he’d great vision. Very similar to the Bomber in that way. When he goes for a ball, he’s very aware what’s around him and can flick it off.

“This is a big one. They’ve made big strides. The squad has worked very well, William Harmon and his management team have done a fantastic job.

“Now going up against the Crokes, is the acid test.

“But any team who has Tommy Walsh in the full-forward line and David Moran around the middle, you have to rate them.”

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Fintan O'Toole

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