Deise confident Walsh can rise to Premier test
LIAM O Lionain will never forget the evening when Shane Walsh sprinkled magic dust all over Walsh Park, in Waterford city. Wednesday, September 3, 2003, Munster U-21 football final: Waterford v Kerry, also-rans against the aristocrats.
As the game slipped into stoppage time, Kerry looked to have done just about enough, leading by 1-9 to 1-8. But they hadn't banked on full-forward Walsh, who timed his jump brilliantly to fist Niall Hennessy's delivery to the net as Waterford went for broke and less than two minutes later, they were crowned Munster U-21 football champions for the very first time.
O Lionain enjoyed his first year in the U-21 ranks in 2003, having come fresh out of minor level, but long before making the step up he had heard about Walsh.
"When I was younger, at minor, I heard plenty about him. You could see that he had a great talent for football at the beginning and it was a big thing for us to beat Kerry," O Lionain recalls.
Shane wasn't the only Walsh to make a big impact that night. At midfield, Michael 'Brick' Walsh ruled the roost, as Kerry -- with Seamus Scanlon, Colm Cooper and Declan Quill in their starting line-up -- were humbled in front of 5,000 spectators.
"They were central to that victory," O Lionain reflects. "They had exceptional talent and it wasn't one bit surprising to see them go on and play senior hurling, because they were that good at football."
The sight of Shane leaping highest to fist the winner remains vividly etched in O Lionain's mind. It's a snapshot he's happy to revisit.
"A high ball came in on top of the square and I was about four or five yards away from Shane. From nowhere, he rose above two or three Kerry defenders. It's one of those things you never forget. He was still higher on his way down than the defenders were on their way up," he says. "It's an exceptional talent that Shane has and you can see that in the hurling, the leap he has for fielding ball."
This eye-catching ability to fetch big ball or small is one of the key skills that has served Walsh so well in both codes. O Lionain also played senior football for the county alongside him and often wonders how good Waterford's team would be if they had all of their dual players available.
Next Sunday at Croke Park in the All-Ireland hurling semi-final against Tipperary, Liam Lawlor should start at full-back, 'Brick' Walsh at centre-back and Shane Walsh at full-forward. They are three superb footballers manning pivotal positions in the spine of the hurling team.
"We always talked about what a good team we could have, but in fairness we have done particularly well this year," says O Lionain. "You put that to the back of your mind. We can't dwell on it any more. For us, as footballers, we just have to get on with it without moaning."
It was Shane Walsh who slammed home the equalising goal as Waterford fought back from the dead to edge past Galway's hurlers in the 2009 All-Ireland quarter-final at Semple Stadium.
A few weeks later, he was helping himself to a goal in each half as the Deise ran Kilkenny to five points in the semi-final. This year, Fourmilewater clubman Walsh, who plays club football with The Nire, decided to throw all of his eggs into hurling's basket.
He didn't start against Clare in the Munster SHC semi-final, but did in both final outings against Cork. So Walsh's senior inter-county hurling career is on the rise.
Cork senior football selector Ger O'Sullivan managed Munster's inter-provincial team last year and Walsh was one of a number of Waterford players in the squad.
"He was anxious to wear the Munster jersey and for a lot of guys from the so-called weaker counties, it is a huge thing for them. If he committed to football, he would make most inter-county teams in the country," says O'Sullivan.
"It's unfortunate for Waterford that some of their players can't give 100pc commitment to football, but mixing both is not easy with hurling still number one in the county."