Prodigal son Walsh aims to shine against former colleagues
FATE showed it has a twisted sense of humour when decreeing that Tommy Walsh's first game back for Carlow would be against Wicklow.
Tomorrow, the Fenagh man will go head to head with his former team-mates. After the dizzy heights of Wicklow's summer of 2009, Walsh steps back into a Carlow team that has shown little to suggest that they could emulate those heroics.
With five debutants, two of them in the full-back line, Carlow are a side in need of Walsh's leadership more than ever.
The forwards, who were coached by Westmeath exile Dessie Dolan for a period earlier in the year, have been decimated by injury. Daniel St Ledger, Eric McCormack and JJ Smith miss out, while Willie Minchin will watch from the stands thanks to an over-zealous London bouncer.
It's possible that all four would have started, so Walsh's return couldn't have come at a more opportune time. He is paired at midfield with Brendan Murphy, the former Sydney Swans player who is also making his championship debut.
But with Walsh only back with the squad since the league campaign, there are worries over his ability to last 70 minutes, so switching him to full-forward late in the game is an option for manager Luke Dempsey.
"He's back where I've always said he belongs," Dempsey said this week. "He's missed a lot but he's worked very hard to get back in shape. We're delighted to have him and I think he can form a very good partnership with Brendan."
Walsh's switch back to Carlow breaks up one of the better centre-field duos around. James Stafford was the other half of the engine-room that drove Wicklow to a previously unimaginable six-match championship summer. They'll be in direct opposition tomorrow against a Wicklow team that now contains, as Dempsey points out, household names.
"Look at these guys like Leighton Glynn, Ciaran Hyland and Seanie Furlong -- everyone knows who they are now, thanks largely to what they did last summer."
Despite their higher profile, Wicklow still languish in Division 4 with the Barrowsiders. A league meeting between the pair earlier this year ended in a 0-14 to 0-7 victory for Wicklow.
Mick O'Dwyer has his injury problems too. All-Star nominee and man-marking specialist Hyland is out, while defender Dara O hAnnaidh flies back into the country to help plug the gaps in a defence that was only the fifth meanest in Division 4.
"Wicklow showed what they can do last year. They had a great run beating some very good teams including Down and they pushed Kildare all the way too," said Dempsey.
In recent challenge matches, Carlow creaked in defence and while they will cause the Garden men a few problems, Wicklow will expect to justify their 1/3 price and progress to a meeting with struggling Westmeath.
Carlow's U-21 side were unlucky not to have beaten eventual All-Ireland champions Dublin earlier this year. But optimism from that is countered by the fact that their minor sides have failed to win a championship outing in three years.
"I'd be hoping that we give a good account of ourselves and then keep the momentum going with all the players we have coming back in," said Dempsey. "We have a lot of lads who are getting their chance. They are probably getting it a little sooner than expected but that's what we have to deal with."