Tommy Walsh would have been better served had Kerry followed the Tadhg Kennelly model
Published 29/04/2016 | 13:13
There haven't been many GAA stories better than Tadhg Kennelly's homecoming season with Kerry, which ended with a son carrying on his father's legacy as the Sydney Swan hoisted the same Sam Maguire that Tim Kennelly did five times during his inter-county career.
The stories of the younger Kennelly and Tommy Walsh have a few similarities - both men were underage stars, both men have All-Ireland winning fathers, both men played Aussie Rules and both men helped Kerry to September glory in 2009.
Both men also made much publicised returns to their native sport - but that is where the similarities end. While Kennelly's decision was rewarded with an All-Star and an All-Ireland medal, reports yesterday suggested that Walsh has opted to leave the Kerry panel after a year where he was given little opportunity to rediscover the destructive form that saw AFL clubs come calling in the first place.
Walsh started the first two league games this year before playing only 11 minutes across the remaining seven, while he didn't even get a cursory cameo in either the routine semi-final win over Roscommon or the 11-point defeat to Dublin in the decider.
There is no doubting that Walsh didn't produce the same caliber of performance in the limited chances he was given by manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice as he did during his first spell in the green and gold, but it is also true that the Kerins O'Rahilly's man can also feel a bit aggrieved at not having a bigger role.
The best case to compare him too is the aforementioned Kennelly.
The wing-forward made his return in the third game of the 2009 National League, where he came off the bench against Derry. While he would ultimately win an All-Star after a storming finish to the season, Kennelly looked off the pace and far from an inter-county contributor as he struggled to re-adapt to Gaelic football at first.
Most tellingly, he was initially guilty of the occasional 'AFL Player wide' where the ball balloons wildly off target due the the player's unfamiliarity with the shape of the ball. Kennelly slowly improved, starting in the Munster championship twice, but still struggled to match the displays of the aforementioned Walsh, Paul Galvin, Colm Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan.
An injury relegated him to the bench ahead of Kerry's famous 17-point shellacking of Dublin's 'startled earwigs' in the All-Ireland quarter-final. However, Kennelly was given an opportunity after a half an hour after an injury to Donnchadh Walsh and kicked two nice scores as he finally got into the rhythm of championship football.
As a result, he was picked to start the semi-final and the final, scoring a brace of points in both and ultimately winning an All-Star and an All-Ireland medal. Fairytale stuff (Walsh was just as prominent in the run-in, notching 1-2 in the semi-final and 0-4 in the final).
To an extent, Kennelly was given the opportunity to play his way into form by then manager Jack O'Connor, and it worked.
Compare the faith shown in Kennelly after his quarter-final display from the bench, with how Tommy Walsh was rewarded for a commanding aerial display in relief at the corresponding stage this year.
Walsh came into the fray at midfield in a similarly one-sided clash with Kildare, and caught a number of high balls in traffic, exactly the sort of thing we saw from him during his dominance in the inside forward line in 2008 and 2009.
Granted, the opposition were poor, but not much poorer than that Dublin side in 2009. Not only was Walsh not picked to start the next day against Tyrone in the semi-final, he didn't even get a minute off the bench.
Nor was he introduced in the final, when possession was at a premium and his old mate Kieran Donaghy began to wreak havoc in front of goal in the closing stages. Walsh seemed to be ideal for such a late game onslaught, but once again was unused.
Eamonn Fitzmaurice sees Walsh far more than anyone else and obviously decided that he is a long way off the player that once terrified every defence in the country. But the intensity of an inter-county game is a notch above even a training setting as rigorous as Kerry's, and it would have been interesting to see what Walsh's development would have been like had he been allowed rediscover his top form on the pitch as Kennelly once was.
It swung the championship in the Kingdom's favour in 2009 and we'll never know what it could have done on All-Ireland final day last year.