Friday 20 October 2017

'My world still turns upside down when I think of him'

Westmeath's Lauralee Walsh explains how GAA helped her cope with loss of her brother

Lauralee Walsh will be hugely motivated to help Westmeath claim glory. Photo: Sportsfile
Lauralee Walsh will be hugely motivated to help Westmeath claim glory. Photo: Sportsfile

Jackie Cahill

When Westmeath captain Lauralee Walsh was contacted by the Women's Gaelic Players Association last year to discuss her switch from football to rugby, and back again, she vowed to hold nothing back.

And so, Walsh, in an emotional video, discussed how the tragic death of her brother on his 21st birthday in 2005 impacted on her, and the role that football played in helping her through.

Mike suffered from depression and took his own life, when Lauralee was just 20.

The pair were close in every sense, less than a year separating them in age and devoted to each other.

While remaining fully aware of her grief, Walsh kept football very much to the forefront.

Michael was buried on a Friday and Walsh played a colleges game on the following Wednesday, before lining out for Westmeath a few days later.

Walsh notes: "It's 12 years now since Mike passed away, I was in my first year in college and it turned my world upside down.

"At times, your world still does turn upside down when you think of the time that has passed without him.

"The WGPA approached me about doing a piece about coming back from the rugby to the Gaelic.

Utmost

"They were coming into my home and I couldn't not tell our story, as a family. During that time, Gaelic football was of the utmost importance to me.

"Just to have your team-mates rally around you like that, and really look after you… but also football gave me a focus when everything else seemed so upside down.

"I'll be forever thankful for the presence of sport and my team-mates, and that's probably why I couldn't wait to come back from the rugby in one sense.

"I feel like I owe Westmeath so much and I owe the girls so much for looking after me the way they did during that time. If I can do that for someone else, if I can look after my team-mates in any shape or form, the way they looked after me, I'd only be honoured to do it."

Playing in the annual sevens competition in Portmarnock in 2013, on All-Ireland final weekend, Walsh's potential for talent transfer was spotted by the manager of the Ireland Sevens rugby team.

She was invited in for trials shortly after and as Walsh, now 32, was in her late 20s at the time, this was too good an opportunity to pass up.

She says: "When Ireland come knocking, you don't say no.

"As hard as it was stepping away from the Gaelic football at the time, that was the stipulation of becoming involved in the Sevens - you were solely being developed as a rugby player.

"It was a huge experience; I travelled the world I think twice over in the two years that I played.

"It just got very hard to manage, working with a full-time job; I guess if I was maybe five or six years younger, you could put the job on the back burner.

Brilliant

"It just wasn't an option for me. It was a brilliant experience, I loved every minute of it, but I came back to Gaelic football and I'm more rejuvenated that I had that two-year break.

"I'm hungry for it again, which is nice, at this stage of my career, to feel that way about your sport."

Captaining Westmeath adds an extra layer for Walsh, a PE and science teacher at Cabinteely Community School who plays her club football in the capital with Na Fianna.

She's certainly come a long way since being given the run-around by former Dublin star Angie McNally on her debut.

Walsh smiles: "When I started playing, I was about 16. I remember Dad (Charlie) bringing me up to Kinnegad, going out and playing Dublin in a match and Angie McNally was playing. They subbed me on that day and said 'go on there and mark her.'

"But I couldn't catch her, I spent the time running after her and I pulled her jersey a couple of times. The referee called me over and he said 'I'd hate to give you a yellow card on your debut'.

"I was like 'ok, fair enough, lesson learned!' I watched Angie McNally run after that but that's one of the earliest memories I have playing on the senior team.

"Dublin were a force to be reckoned with back then, just as they are now. She was a fabulous player."

Tomorrow at Parnell Park, Cavan stand in the way of Westmeath and promotion to Division 1.

Westmeath have lost the last two Division 2 finals but no matter what the result this time, Walsh will always view football through a prism of perspective.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport