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Walsh's mantra: 'When you get a football in your hands it is a ball of magic'

Galway forward Shane Walsh chats about working with Bernard Dunne, returning to college and his love of football.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

AS SOON AS Shane Walsh put the ball down, his manager on the sideline went nuts. Kilkerrin-Clonberne were in the middle of a minor championship clash and here was this 14-year-old lining up to kick a free off the ground. 

His principal in Clonberne national, Peadar Brandon, had enforced a strict rule that Walsh was to kick with his left. Any time he reverted to his preferred right it was a free for the opposition. By the time he attended the football academy that is St Jarlath’s, Fr Ollie Hughes suggested he develop it further. 

“Sure if you can do it off the right foot then you can do it off your left foot.” 

shane-walsh-takes-a-free Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Little did the gathered crowd know, but Walsh was capable of slotting the free. With either foot. 

“I thought, lovely,” the 29-year-old recalls, speaking at the GAA Football All-Ireland Series National Launch. 

“I’ll have a go at this. Everyone was losing their life but then once you kick it over the bar it’s like anything, if you score you’re a hero and if you miss you’re the worst in the world.”  

Walsh has a mental routine before every set shot. Before he kicks the ball, he forms a picture in his mind. White flag in the air, the scoreboard changing. Money already in the bank.

Off the ground or from his hands? Whatever feels right in the moment. That is the defining feature of Galway’s masterful forward. His is a game of instinct, still channelling the same fun and adventure that defined his childhood. Bar a brief Covid-induced blip, it has always been so. 

“Covid probably takes the fun out of everything in that regard, taking the whole feeling out of the atmosphere and the occasion. But for me, you are always looking at the positive that you are able to play, lucky enough to be able to be one of the players to represent your county.

“There are so many people out there who are so interested in it and would love to be doing it and for whatever reason, they are not in that position. So I’m lucky enough to be there.”

 In 2013 during a U21 training session, a bemused Paul Clancy watched Walsh shooting. The drill was basic. Start at the cone, quick one-two, put it over the bar. 

Eventually, the selector intervened: ‘Why do you keep kicking the ball so different?’

Outside of the boot, then inside. Left, right. Big backswing, chip kick. A golfer adding irons to his play. An arsenal built up over a lifetime. 

“Going out kicking the ball, I never saw it as a chore. I never see football as a chore. There are chores in the wintertime when you have to go run up a block of fitness but other than that, when you get a football in your hands it is a ball of magic really.

“It is what you can do with it. That is something I have based my game around. People give out to me, especially Pádraic and Scan (John Concannon), ‘you only come to life when you get the ball. Can you do more off the ball?’

“That is the challenge for me I have to keep working on. At the same time, I know my strengths. When I am on the ball I know I can make things happen. It is just about continuing to do that for the better of the team.” 

shane-walsh Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

For the past few years, Galway have dreamed of more, for Walsh to deliver on his true potential. This year their generational talent has demonstrated consistent All-Star form. Yet for all the focus on the individual, it is the collective that has them in the final eight. He is a significant sum but not the whole. 

The addition of Cian O’Neill earlier this year was a welcomed one, he explains. That is where their ability to adapt and play different styles stems from. Off the field, he is a trusted sounding board.

Walsh recently changed career paths, returning to third-level education to study P.E. O’Neill is head of MTU’s department of sport, leisure, and childhood studies in Cork. 

Why the change? Because of football. 

“I live and breathe it. Hence why I chose the different career path. I was in the bank and had absolutely no issues working with Bank of Ireland.

“For me, I just said I need to be involved in sport and I’d love to go into coaching as well down the line. Teaching PE was the next step for that. 

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 ”I always say that if I can get the sort of improvement out of somebody else that I got out of myself, then I’ll be loving life then.

 ”When I go out and play football, it’s the exact same way. If I can get an improvement out of myself and see it, that’s the greatest satisfaction.”

There have been other additions to the coaching ticket too. Former Dublin sports performance coach and boxer Bernard Dunne has come on board, while at the helm is one of the Tribesmen’s most cherished players who finally, after two frustrating campaigns, has his outfit believing.  

“Bernard is a sound fella. It is class, a lot of the young lads wouldn’t have heard of him in the panel. As Bernard says, it is 15 years since he was boxing. It is mad really. Bernard is so experienced.

“Between his own career and he was involved with Dublin. Just a really solid guy. When he speaks you listen because there are only learnings to come from him.

“There’s definitely more of a belief there now. Pádraic is a man of belief. He’s such a confident man. What he said when he played, he did.

“He was just an unbelievable footballer and to have that confidence, it shows, and it spreads across the team as well. The players see that as well. When you have a manager breathing that confidence into you as well, that helps.

“I have huge admiration for Pádraic as a player and a manager. He has Galway at the centre of his heart.

“It is so refreshing when you have someone like that. He wants the best for Galway. He has made that so clear. It is the heartwarming thing for me. Galway to the core.” 

Like coach, like player. 

About the author:

Maurice Brosnan

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