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'It's the risk of bringing it home to somebody, that's the biggest danger'

Tommy Walsh on how the GAA could make a comeback, his siblings on Kilkenny panels and missing hurling with Tullaroan.

Image: James Crombie/INPHO

KILKENNY HURLING STAR Tommy Walsh believes GAA players could adjust to lining out in games behind closed doors but that it will only be safe to do so if other contact sports on the world stage have returned to action.

With GAA games currently shut down and doubts over whether an inter-county championship will take place this year, Walsh feels the bigger danger for players will be fears they could compromise the safety of their family members.

“The way I’d be looking at it is, you have World Rugby, you have American Football, there’s plenty of contact sports out there – basketball – on the world stage that will be getting plenty and plenty of professional advice. I’m sure if they can’t go back, we can’t go back. The GAA could look at it. ‘If it’s safe for them to do so, then let’s see if we can make it safe for our players to do so’. So I think it’s probably important to look at what’s happening worldwide.

“The big challenge is the players. It’s a contact sport. That’s the challenge that we need to find a solution to. I think every player would be happy to go out and take that risk. It’s the risk of bringing it home to somebody, that’s the biggest danger. I think if it was safe to do so from a players’ point of view, it would be a no-brainer to play it.

“I think the crowd thing would be a challenge we could get over. You go and ask any fella that’s playing for an inter-county team at the moment, do they remember winning an U14 county final, schools county final? There might have been 50 people at it, and it was probably one of the greatest days of their lives. So I don’t think from a players’ point of view the crowd is going to matter. And I think that challenge could be overcome by putting out social distancing guidelines in the stadium. If you have a 30,000 or 40,000-seater stadium, you could put in I’m sure maybe 2,000 or 3,000 people, whatever number is safe to do so.”

padraig-walsh-with-john-mcgrath Kilkenny's Padraig Walsh in action against Tipperary's John McGrath in last year's All-Ireland hurling final. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The debate raging as to whether club or county action should return first in GAA is not one Walsh dwells on.

“Often the argument is the club versus the county but we need to look at club and country. I’m lucky enough to be able to see it from both sides, being there giving my life to Kilkenny for so many years and now back with Tullaroan.

“I see the youngsters…without these inter-county stars we’ll have no youngsters because they are out pucking a ball every week, trying to be TJ Reid, trying to be Patrick Horgan, Seamus Callanan. They are their Ronaldos.

“So I would say it doesn’t matter which comes first let’s look after both of them because I think both of them are important. It will be easy to push the two of them together, you’ll have a condensed championship, it could be knock-out only. The big challenge will be just to get the players back out there.”

Having retired from the county game in 2014, he still has an insight into the current challenging scenario facing players with his brother Padraig and sister Grace involved in Kilkenny squads.

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grace-walsh Grace Walsh in action in last year's All-Ireland senior camogie final. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“They are like nearly all groups at the moment. They have programmes from their strength and conditioning coach, their manager and they are doing their programmes every day.

“I’d say it’s not even to get back for an inter-county season, it’s to keep the minds right. Exercise is so important. We are all working from home now. You could get easily cocooned into the spare room or the office, whatever you have, working away and never getting outside.

“I see Padraig and Grace, they are doing their programmes that they got from their respective coaches and no more than anyone I’d imagine that the benefit that they have, and I’m sure they have these GPS so the data can go back to their coaches to monitor them and see how they are getting on.”

It has already been a memorable year on the pitch for Walsh after January’s Al-Ireland final triumph with Tullaroan.

Source: OurGame/YouTube

“I remember one of the fellas, he’s been playing with Tullaroan for maybe 25 years now at this stage. He just said, ‘I can move on with my life now’. He can come back hurling now.

“You know when you’ve been away and you’ve always been beaten, maybe when you come back from your holidays, come back and visit the place, you’ll always have been feeling that sense of ‘Jesus, we could never do it. How was it we never go to feel that success?’

“Now, that one day in the sun and the couple of days we had afterwards, now he can come back forevermore, maybe until he’s 85-years-of-age and say, ‘Jeez, remember the time we won the county final and the All-Ireland?’ It will forever be a happy place for him now and I think we all feel that.

“Am I missing hurling? I’m missing the competitiveness of it, missing the winning and losing. I’m at home every evening and we are hurling every evening for a couple of hours, taking sidelines, flicking the ball. We have a goal since I was a young lad out the back, we have a big garden to hurl away in.

“It would be very tough if we don’t get hurling in this year. The club is on such a high. We have that whole positivity coming from that. You’d be hoping that if it’s safe to do so, 2020 won’t be lost yet.

“I remember listening to an interview with Ger Loughnane on Off the Ball, it really had a great influence on the way I was thinking. He had got very sick that time, he had to go to hospital up in Dublin for quite a while. Rather than just saying why me the whole time he just said I’m going to dive into this life. ‘Whatever they ask me to do, I’m going to do.’

“Since then it is a great mindset to have I always thought – very, very positive.”

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On behalf of Electric Ireland, Former Kilkenny hurler, Tommy Walsh calls on the public to support Pieta’s urgent appeal for donations and join us for ‘Sunrise’ on May 9th to mark the occasion.

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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