Monday 5 December 2016

Walsh keen to pitch anchor deeper and earn more trust

Published 09/02/2016 | 02:30

Walter Walsh of Kilkenny with the Allianz NHL trophy at yesterday's launch in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Walter Walsh of Kilkenny with the Allianz NHL trophy at yesterday's launch in Dublin. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

When Walter Walsh scanned the flip chart in the Kilkenny team meeting room on the Friday night before last year's Leinster hurling final, he was taken aback by where he saw his name.

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Not quite as stunned as the sight of his name on that same flip chart almost three years earlier for the All-Ireland final replay against Galway but, being posted beside Conor Fogarty at midfield in the absence of Michael Fennelly, gave him a shot of unexpected confidence.

In Kilkenny, they know the value placed on the No 3 and No 6 shirts but midfielders carry big responsibility too and that sense of elevation wasn't lost on Walsh.

"It would have given me a lot of confidence that Brian trusted me to play in midfield. It is an important position and I hadn't played much in midfield, even in training," he recalled.

It worked well for him too as he picked off two points but for the semi-final he was back up front.

Stellar

Whipped off first that day for John Power, consistency has been a problem for Walsh since his stellar debut when he scored 1-3. In 13 championship starts since he's been substituted six times and, for four of those withdrawals, he's been the first man off.

There's a touch of 'feast or famine' about him but through the last two National League campaigns he has worked hard at putting down firmer roots.

Last year he started every one of Kilkenny's six league ties (including the relegation play-off against Clare) and four championship games.

There have been days (and nights) when he has really looked the part as a Kilkenny forward ready to lead; the opening night against Cork in Páirc Uí Rinn last year when he scored three points, the 2014 10-goal Nowlan Park thriller against Tipperary when he scored five.

But on other occasions he has been left frustrated. After scoring 1-3 in the 2014 league quarter-final against Wexford, he drew a blank against Galway and lost his place for the league final against Tipperary.

Restored for the Offaly championship game, he scored four points, drew another blank against Galway and lost out for the replay.

So 2015 anchored him in a much firmer way.

"I played the most games, played the most minutes than I had done in the previous two. It was more consistent for me," he said. " The end result for everybody is winning an All-Ireland, whether you are playing or not, but it felt more rewarding for me on a personal level having played all the games."

Had he changed anything to make that difference?

"You set yourself little targets, little goals and you just try to achieve them and try and improve yourself year in, year out. Maybe as a result I got into the team."

In 30 league and championship games since his 2012 debut, he has scored just two more goals but insists that hitting the ground running so fast as he did has not been a burden.

"I don't think it is personally. You just move on, no point in looking back on your career. If you are looking back you will get yourself in bother. I didn't look back on 2012 too often, if at all."

Typically as a Kilkenny forward he has been moved around like a chess piece, his height and physical advantage sometimes being used to target areas of potential opposition weakness. Thus he's reluctant to identify a position where he feels he can be most effective.

"I don't have any preference to where I play. Effectiveness? That can change after a game, or even after 10 minutes.

"It is hard to decide which is better for you. If you get a point from wing-forward, you might decide, 'Wing-forward is my position'.

"Then you don't score and you go in full-forward or corner-forward, and you go well in there and decide, 'This is my position'."

Irish Independent

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