independent

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Talking tactics: Walsh thinks ahead

Donnchadh Walsh, Kerry. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Donegal v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Walsh, Kerry. GAA Football All-Ireland Senior Championship Quarter-Final, Donegal v Kerry, Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Paul Mohan / SPORTSFILE

THAT'S what you associate with Donnchadh Walsh really isn't it? He's the worker bee of the Kerry football team.

 Running his legs off, tracking back, breaking at pace, winning breaks, linking up his inside forwards, scoring the occasional point, nabbing the odd very important goal. Workrate, a superb attitude, an unbelievable desire to succeed. That's Donnchadh Walsh.

He needed every bit of that that desire, that hunger, to make his mark at this level. He made his league debut for the Kingdom as long ago as 2003 (against Dublin in Fitzgerald Stadium) and yet it took until 2008 for the Cromane man to make his championship debut (against Cork in Pairc Uí Chaoimh). Such was life for a half-forward trying to make his mark in the era that saw the Kingdom particularly blessed in the half-forward department – Declan O'Sullivan, Walsh's club mate Sean O'Sullivan, Tadhg Kennelly, Paul Galvin, Eoin Brosnan and Liam Hassett to name a few.

Perhaps, that's the reason why he works so hard when he takes to the field. It's almost certainly the reason that Pat O'Shea, Jack O'Connor and now Eamonn Fitzmaurice select him in their teams. It's also the likely reason why he's been so plagued by injury in the last year or so. When you work that hard, when you run so hard, it's inevitably going to lead to wear and tear.

"It was a groin / hip issue. It's fairly common, there's a bit of a tear in my hip," he says of the injury that kept him out of action at the beginning of the season.

"Other fellas have gone and got the operation, but they choose not to go for it with me and it was a bit of a rehab situation and I've been working away on that. It's the kind of thing that I've to keep on top of throughout the year. It's probably to do with the amount of running that I do and it just brings on a bit of groin pain and, probably, my posture isn't the greatest. It's a thing I've to keep on top of. It feels great at the moment, but I just have to mind it for the rest of the season."

As he walked off heavy pitch in Stack Park on Sunday there was an extra pep in his step. This has been a particularly trying season. The Kingdom suffered defeat after defeat after defeat after defeat before they finally got off the mark against Down and, like Dublin buses, having waited all year for one victory two came along together. People will point to home comforts, to the return of some more experienced players to the fold, as the reason for this turnaround.

A simplistic reading of the situation? Walsh, who speaks cogently about the game, would likely think so.

"It's very difficult [breaking down the blanket defence]," he says.

"I think it's why we struggled at the start of the year. I think we were almost over thinking it a bit. We were saying: 'what are we going to do to break down these defences?' and 'we can't play our traditional game, we can't kick as much as we would like to' and I think that's why we were a small bit afraid and cautious and it showed in our play that we weren't confident on the ball. We didn't play like a confident Kerry foottballing team usually does.

"It got into our play and I think that's why we played so poorly in the first few games. Now we're playing with a bit more confidence and we have adapted our play definitely to counteract the swarm defence we're still not excellent at penetrating it, but we've improved there in the last few games."

As a spectacle, the development of the swarm defence has been to the detriment of the game of gaelic football. The first half on Sunday had those in the stands gasping and groaning at how truly awful it was. It was trugid stuff as Cork dropped their half-forward line back behind their midfield and Kerry passed the ball over and back and over and back again trying to find a little bit of space to exploit, which wasn't often. It certainly wasn't fun to watch. It can't have been fun to play in either.

"It is very tough," Walsh admits.

"I suppose it is a challenge. I'd probably say I'd love to play the day when it was just pure kick and catch and score and take on your one man that you have, but that's just not the way it is. It's the challenge, what are we going to do? We want to win. The aim of the game is to win and you have to adapt your play to try and beat this system.

"It is difficult in the first half of each game. I was watching the first half of Donegal and Cork and even our game there today I'd say, it takes a while for the game to open up, because fellas are so fit at the start of the game that they do have the legs to get back and pack defences, but as fellas get tired the game opens up a bit. Can kicking teams still beat the swarm defence? I still think that's the only way to beat it kick fast out of defence, at pace and beat it that way. I still think that's the way to beat it."

Thinking about how to break down the blanket defence, putting in place plans to do just that, will no doubt feature at the top of the agenda for Kerry's training camp in Portugal this week. Eamonn Fitzmaurice has said that the focus of this trip is on championship perparations and not on the short term goal of securing Kerry's Division 1 status for 2014. In other words this will be an intense week away for the players.

"We're going to be training two or three times a day," Walsh says.

"We're going to be meeting in the evening and talking tactics which is so important as well. We're going to get in four or five days training, fifteen sessions so it's about a month's training if not more."

No holiday camp then. It should, nevertheless, be beneficial to them ahead of the trip up north to face Tyrone. When their season will be on the line and when the locals will be in no mood to do their great rivals any favours.

"It'll be like a championship game going up there," Walsh says.

"It's going to be hostile. We're going to be after a good week's training, they're going to be in the mix as well. We're looking forward to it already."

A glutton for hard work, we'd expect little else.

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