Colm Keys: Time still on Walsh's side to make his mark with Kingdom
Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30
Look back at the final minutes of the All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin and Tommy Walsh is on the sideline beside manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice busying himself like a man who is ready to come in.
At that point Kerry had already used their maximum of six substitutes. Unless there was a blood substitution required in the four minutes of injury-time that was played, the opportunity for introducing Walsh was gone.
As meticulous an operation as Kerry would not get their figures wrong on that count but Walsh warmed up anyway. It was a curious one but then probably in keeping with the nature of a 'second coming' that has failed to get off the ground.
Of all the rumours to emerge from the Kingdom in the days after that defeat, Walsh's frustration seemed the most plausible. He had played just 13 minutes of Championship football (excluding added time), three at the end of the opening Munster Championship match against Tipperary, 10 more at the end of the All-Ireland quarter-final rout of Kildare.
The latter was an impressive cameo that suggested more to come. He caught three kick-outs cleanly, he was fouled beneath a fourth. Granted Kildare were in disarray at that stage but Walsh had left a calling card. It would be his last action for Kerry in 2015 though.
Having played a part in all seven league matches earlier in the year, starting one against Derry, opportunities thinned out.
In the off season it was clear that a greater focus would be placed on integrating Walsh and he started the first two League games against Dublin and Roscommon. His contributions in either game, chiefly from full-forward but further outfield at times too, did not stand out. For the third game he was a late substitution against in Newry, but an injury after that sidelined him, and his only other appearance came at the tail-end of the game against Cork.
On Sunday against Dublin he wore No 25. Again six subs went in ahead of him, this time there was no Anthony Maher and James O'Donoghue who will skip the queue when they return from injury in the coming weeks. Johnny Buckley may not have been fully fit either so he stayed put.
Put it all together, as he did, and Walsh quickly came to the conclusion that there was little point in hanging around. With everyone fit he was somewhere close to the mid-20s in the pecking order.
For a 28-year-old with five seasons as a professional sportsman behind him that's a difficult place to be.
In the current climate that prevails in Kerry after last weekend, the management will take some flak for failing to integrate a player of Walsh's dimensions and obvious ability since his return from AFL.
But the 3D-vision that the management team have at training week in and out isn't open to eyes outside the camp and, with so much emphasis placed by Kerry on training ground form, the evidence may have been there before them.
Walsh has not looked like the player that left for Australia in the aftermath of a four-point contribution to Kerry's All-Ireland success over Cork in 2009.
A serious hamstring tear that took part of the muscle off the bone - something similar to what ultimately finished Paul O'Connell's rugby career at last year's World Cup - has clearly had an impact. Injuries like that have the potential to change the mechanics of an athlete's stride.
The game he left behind in 2009 is a more dynamic, fast-moving one. For sure, there's still a place for a player of his specifications but not a quantity of them.
Sadly, Walsh hasn't been able to rediscover his 2009 form to force his case sufficiently but many observers feel he was entitled to more game-time.At 28 he still has plenty of time and Kerry might just be glad to see him around next February.