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'I was eight weeks nursing a broken bone in the shoulder and a torn ligament. It needs to be cut out'

Shane Walsh suffered a bad shoulder injury after an off-the-ball incident in the Connacht final.

Shane Walsh receives treatment for a shoulder injury during the Connacht final.
Shane Walsh receives treatment for a shoulder injury during the Connacht final.

IT WAS A challenge that went unpunished and left Shane Walsh with a broken shoulder and damaged ligaments.

The Galway star lit up the first-half of the Connacht final and had 1-1 to his name in Croke Park before he was slammed to the ground by Mayo defender Padraig O’Hora in an off-the-ball incident.

After requiring medical attention for a number of minutes on the field, Walsh subsequently required a painkilling injection in his shoulder at half-time. But he was a shadow of himself in the second period as Galway’s five-point interval lead evaporated into dust.

In the wake of their six-point defeat, Padraic Joyce was furious the challenge went unpunished by the officials.

“He got dumped the ground, thrown on the ground and nothing happened. There’s seven or eight officials there are the match,” he fumed.

“I’d seen what happened, but obviously they didn’t see it. It’s frustrating when that happens and they get away with it. There’s two linesman, there’s four umpires, there’s a referee and there’s an assistant referee.

“How someone can’t see what happened is beyond me. But that’s not sour grapes or anything. The man was hurt. He was carrying his shoulder.”

Walsh’s return to action with his club Kilkerrin-Clonberne was delayed by two months as he nursed the injury. No retrospective action was taken, despite the challenge being picked up by TV cameras.

As Galway’s star forward Walsh is routinely targetted and he says it wasn’t an isolated incident.

Amid all the recent talk about structural changes to the football championship, the 28-year-old believes referees need greater support so they can deal with such instances.

“There’s so much going on with the pace of the game in football,” he explains. “They don’t even see it, what’s going on. That is the biggest thing, that would cut out the cynicism that’s in the game at the moment, in relation to the last seven or eight years.

“Football has changed from when I started playing with Galway, 10 seasons ago now. We need to adapt to it, and you need to provide supports to the referees. They’re not going to see everything that happens.

“I just believe that could definitely be something that could be looked at, the TMO (television match official) side of things or something to that effect, where there’s an extra eye watching what’s going on in the game. Like that, let the game play. If something happens in the game, they buzz the referee.

“If they want a camera on the side of the pitch, but it should be a referee looking after it, saying to the referee, ‘Look, I spotted an off-the-ball incident, we’re in black card territory. You can look at it if you want, but I’d be saying black card’.

“Or whatever it is. And then the ref goes and makes that call. Simple as. That way then, if that happens more, it would cut out the kind of stuff that goes on off the ball.”

john-west-feile-2021-launch Galway's Shane Walsh at the launch of the 2021 John West Féile at Croke Park. Source: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

A number of weeks after that incident, after a heavy hit by John Small left Mayo’s Eoghan McLaughlin with a double jaw fracture during the All-Ireland semi-final, Marc Ó Sé called for the GAA to introduce a TMO to assist referees deal with such incidents.

Reflecting on that challenge in the Connacht final, Walsh says: “It’s one thing going out and having a muscle injury in a game. But going out and having the game taken away from you by someone else because of something off the ball, that’s the most frustrating thing.

“Especially the way the championship was played, you had one chance at it. For me, I wouldn’t have been able to play an All-Ireland semi-final even after that game. I was eight weeks nursing a broken bone in the shoulder and a torn ligament.

“Do I want to be happening because some player decides he wants to pull me down off the ball? No, that’s not how I was coached how to play football. No-one was coached how to play football that way.

“When you were coached how to tackle, it’s tackling the ball, you’re staying on your feet, you’re trying to turn them to their weaker side. They’re the elements of defending, it’s not the kind of things you see going on in a game. That’s only one incident. Numerous incidents go on in games. It needs to be cut out.

“You have young kids seeing that, and if they see that kind of carry-on, they do the exact same thing.”

Walsh is enthusiastic about the addition to Cian O’Neill to Joyce’s backroom team.

Having worked with new Kerry coach Paddy Tally in the past, Walsh says a coach is of utmost importance to an inter-county set-up as the manager is required to oversee the entire operation.

“It’s a running network. Your manager is going to put the vision in place. For us it would be winning a Sam Maguire, that’s the end of the process. Then you have to break it into little goals. The coach will have a huge element of that to cover because they essentially will be looking after the style your manager wants you playing.

“No more than when we had Paddy Tally there as well before, for me I’m trying to learn and the only way you learn by approaching these people and seeing the way they’re thinking.

“They’ll see after a while of training that there’s something else you could be doing. For me, that’s invaluable. That you can have that sort of person come into you. I’m very lucky to be part of an inter-county set-up that has it.

“For me it’s a great way to learn. I’ll build a relationship now, no doubt, with Cian as we go forward when he gets on board with us.

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“Just seeing his way of working. He’s been involved in so many teams going back to Tipp with Liam Sheedy, Kerry in 2014 with Eamonn Fitzmaurice, he was obviously over Kildare and we played Kildare numerous times in that period as well, then he was with Cork.

“He’s going to bring a vast amount of experience to it. He seems like a really enthusiastic guy as well in relation to the sport.”

ronan-mccarthy-coach-cian-oneill-and-manager-billy-lee-share-a-joke-before-the-game Cian O'Neill on the touchline during his two-year stint with Cork. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Ahead of Saturday’s Special Congress, Walsh is in favour of Proposal B being introduced to help the lower tier counties ”get stronger, so that they can challenge in time.”

Much of the opposition has centred around the sixth placed team in Division 1 failing to make the knock-out stages. 

“One thing it probably does is it puts an extra emphasis on the fact that now, you have to go and perform. There’s no case of ‘oh we’ll feel out the start of the year’ because you could be left behind when it comes to the final eight. If you want to be there, you have to give it your best chance. I think it’s worth a trial anyway, this championship system.

“Last year, Tyrone and Donegal played each other in the first game and Tyrone were gone. So what’s the difference between that and having the sixth team knocked out? Not really much other than that they’ve had a lot of chances but they weren’t in the top five.”

Asked if winning the Connacht title in the spring would still matter if it was detached from the All-Ireland series, he responded: “It’s a funny one that people would even think it would lose its precedence. To be honest, if we played Mayo, Roscommon or anyone like that in the middle of the sea for a Connacht championship you’d go hell for leather for it, same if it was a game of tiddlywinks or whatever it is.

“You’d go mad at it. That’s the way it is. There’s a huge rivalry there, especially if it’s Galway-Mayo. For us it doesn’t matter (when we play them). Like the FBD League game a few years ago we played them and it went all the way to penalties. No-one wants to lose those games.

“I’m not speaking on behalf of Galway, I’m speaking on behalf anyone involved in their province. They’re going to be absolutely itching to be at the top of their province because essentially that’s where the bragging rights are with Mayo. For us it’s about getting the title back again into Galway territory.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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