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Munster boss backs Tommy Walsh to make Kerry return in 2017

The Tralee man has been impressing Ger O’Sullivan who also believes talk of a crisis in Cork GAA is premature.

Tommy Walsh in action for Kerry in the league earlier this year.
Tommy Walsh in action for Kerry in the league earlier this year.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

TOMMY WALSH’S GAA return hasn’t gone to plan but his club form has convinced Munster boss Ger O’Sullivan we haven’t seen the last of the talented Kerins O’Rahilly’s man at inter-county level.

Walsh and provincial captain Aidan O’Mahony are the Kingdom’s only two representatives on O’Sullivan’s panel for this year’s interprovincial championship due to a clash with a county fundraiser in New York.

The performance of Walsh, in particular, the 28-year-old who opted out of Kerry’s championship panel last season after featuring in the league, will be of interest.

From what he has seen of late, O’Sullivan believes the former Sydney Swan has plenty to offer Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side next year.

“He’s good, he’s playing good club football,” explains O’Sullivan.

“I think he is actually [ready to return].

“It’s a very tight line between being on the team and being off the panel in any county.

“I think that maybe when he came back from Australia he was brought into the panel maybe too soon.

“All players should be allowed to get back with their clubs for maybe 12 months and then challenge for a position on the county panel. I think he still has a lot to offer.”

Walsh, of course, burst on to the scene in 2008 with Kerry after building a reputation as a minor footballer with serious ability.

The destruction he caused around the edge of the square, in tandem with fellow ‘Twin Tower’ Kieran Donaghy, helped Kerry to the All-Ireland crown in 2009, a year after being crowned the Young Footballer of the Year.

It’s been a tough few years for Walsh, a horror hamstring injury, which saw him tear the muscle off the bone, increased his already long odds of making it in Australia.

As he continues his re-integration into Gaelic football, the best place to play him, in midfield or on the edge of the square, often dominates discussions around getting the best out of such a talented athlete.

“I think it’s [his best position] full-forward at the moment,” adds O’Sullivan.

“Then again it’s a bit like Gary Brennan who we have also in the Munster panel.

“Gary can easily rotate between full-forward and midfield.

“Because of their fetching ability now and again [you can] play them at full-forward but allow them every now and then to go to midfield, especially with the trialling of the mark.”

Gary Brennan celebrates Gary Brennan celebrates success with Ballyea. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

The willingness of Brennan to play in this year’s interprovincial championship is quite remarkable.

It’s been a long year for the All-Star nominee, winning Division 3 of the league with Clare and then reaching the quarter-final of the championship with the Banner’s footballers for the first time in the county’s history.

Not done there, Brennan has continued his remarkable 2016 by playing a crucial run in Ballyea’s run to maiden hurling titles in Clare and Munster.

And his commitment even caught O’Sullivan, a long-time advocate for the competition that used to be known as the Railway Cup, by surprise.

“Gary has been tremendous,” O’Sullivan explains.

“Gary has been a great supporter and I thought this year after Ballyea winning the club hurling championship that he might need a break, because he was going back to the club again for league semi-finals. But he said he wants to play.”

The deep championship runs of Clare and Tipperary showcased a number of quality footballers to the masses.

And Brennan is joined on O’Sullivan’s panel by Banner team-mates Jamie Malone, David Tubridy, Keelan Sexton and Kevin Hartnett while the Premier County will also be well represented with Evan Comerford, Alan Campbell, Bill Maher, All-Star Michael Quinlivan and Conor Sweeney involved.

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O’Sullivan also has five panel members from his native Cork – Kevin and Colm O’Driscoll, Conor Dorman, Ruairi Deane, and Tom Clancy — for the interprovincial championship weekend on 9-10 December in Parnell Park.

Difficult

Cork had a difficult 2016 as the football and hurling panels got used to new managers — the footballers were relegated from Division 1 while the hurlers avoided a similar fate in hurling by winning a play-off against Galway.

Their championship fortunes weren’t much better; the footballers’ shock loss to Tipperary in Munster setting the tone before a qualifier defeat to Donegal ended their summer campaign.

Cork’s hurlers suffered a heavy Munster defeat at the hands of eventual All-Ireland winners Tipperary and while they knocked Dublin out in the qualifiers, their defeat to Wexford in the next round made it a year to forget in both codes.

Recent club results have compounded that feeling but former inter-county selector O’Sullivan believes talk of a crisis in Cork is premature.

Ger O’Sullivan Munster football manager Ger O’Sullivan. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“It’s down at the moment and I suppose people are worried because the indications over the last month weren’t great with Carbery Rangers being beaten by The Nire (in Munster club SFC semi-final).

“And then also Kiskeam, who are up to senior next year, being beaten by Adare (in the intermediate semi). And we saw what happened The Nire and we saw what happened Adare (heavy final defeats).

“The players are there in Cork county. I don’t think it’s as bad as people make it out to be.

“I think the players are there, the commitment is there. I know most of them, they’re very committed players and very professional in the way they deal with it.

“We have our knockers around the country and around the county but I know these guys and I think they’ll be able to show people that Cork are not a spent force.

“Peadar came in last year with a new management team and he is just one year down.

“OK, we didn’t win any trophies but at the same time I think he’s entitled to be given the chance. That’s sport and it’s very important that Cork people support the players and the management.

“You can’t just criticise a management team after one year, you must give them their time.

O’Sullivan radiates positivity and he feels that the €78m redevelopment of Páirc Uí Chaoimh will give the county a much-needed lift in 2017.

“I think that the [football] draw this year is favourable enough.

“I’d like to think that they’ll do quite well in Division 2. It’s a difficult division but I’d like to think that they’d get promoted.

“In the championship then I’d like to think that we could get to a Munster final in Cork.

“We’ll have the new stadium open and I’d like to think that we could put it up to Kerry in the new Páirc Uí Chaoimh come the first Sunday in July.”

Having seen the plans for the new home of Cork GAA, O’Sullivan is struggling to contain his excitement.

“It’s tremendous. I didn’t realise until I went up to the launch the week before last where I saw the plans and some of it first-hand and it is state-of-the-art. It even surprised me, what I saw.

“I think it is what Cork needs. I know you might look at the money side of it and say it won’t pay for itself but we need an identity like that.

“We’re one of the largest cities in the country…I don’t think people actually realise how good it is.”

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