Dogged Walsh ready to fight for his place all over again
Published 20/06/2015 | 02:30
Stephen Walsh knows it's a dogfight.
Despite playing in every minute of Limerick's League campaign and lining out against Clare in the Munster quarter-final, the Glenroe man is taking nothing for granted.
Midweek whispers suggested that Walsh was in danger of losing his place for tomorrow's semi-final clash with Tipperary.
If that is the case, he'll take it on the chin and aim to prove himself all over again.
Walsh (28) was out in the cold last year when Seamus Hickey returned from cruciate knee ligament damage to fill one of the corner-back slots, Tom Condon occupying the other.
The news that he wouldn't be starting against Tipp in Thurles last summer came as "a shock" but this year, Walsh has endeavoured to make it as hard as he possibly can for manager TJ Ryan to leave him out.
Walsh recalls: "We had guys who had knocks and stuff like that so I had been playing a lot of the games coming up to the Tipperary game last year.
"It was a shock for me, it was a knock-back but you can't fault any of the boys that came in.
"Seamus went on to win an All Star, had an incredible year.
"Jesus, I wouldn't hold grudges or begrudge anyone like that. We're a tight enough bunch and more power to the lads that did step in because they drove it on. We were within a hair's breadth of getting to an All-Ireland final."
Rather than allowing that setback to knock him off his stride, Walsh worked harder than ever to re-establish himself.
But he admits: "I went through every sort of emotion you can imagine. You're hurt and you're angry and down over it but you can only dwell on something like that so long.
"The season is going to roll on and at the time it was only the first round of the championship. Anything could have happened. You just have to stay with it.
"If you want to walk away, you're free to do so. I wanted to prove to myself as well over the Christmas period, to go back in the best possible shape."
He was an ever-present throughout the spring time but Clare's two-man inside line presented Limerick with some problems and there may be a casualty.
Walsh will accept whatever fate comes his way but as a top-level player, nothing tops the "buzz" of being involved from the start.
He reflects: "I suppose the way things worked out with Donal (O'Grady) leaving last year and TJ stepping in and bringing in one or two guys with him, they were probably under a little bit of pressure to settle on a team so soon with such little time left.
"They went with the boys they went with and that's fair enough. I watched a lot of the games and I came on in one or two but you can't beat just the buzz of starting and playing from the beginning.
"I had a good chat with TJ at the start of this year. He basically came up and said to me it was in my own hands, that I was going to get plenty of game time during the Waterford Crystal initially and then the League games.
"Whatever I made of it after that was my own. I'm just happy enough to be back in first of all, and the fact that the lads have a bit of faith in me."
Ryan also has faith that Limerick can achieve a third straight Championship over Tipperary in successive seasons, something that hasn't been done since 1946-48.
When Limerick beat Tipp at the Gaelic Grounds two years ago, it provided the platform for a first Munster Championship title in 17 years. But Walsh was left counting the cost at full-time when he suffered a freak injury.
He explains: "The place had gone crazy. I don't know what had happened but my helmet ended up being off and there was the usual craic with lads patting you on the back but some fella reached over.
"I wear (contact) lenses so he ended up scraping my eye through the lens and I ended up getting an infection.
"After the few days of hysteria I had let the whole thing go.
"It got to a stage then where I couldn't really put anything into my eye and I had to go and get it checked out but the infection was quite bad at the time.
"It was touch and go then whether it would have been all right for the Munster final but I got onto my optician, he sent me on to a specialist up in Cork and it cleared up."