Shane Walsh's habit of hitting the net against Kilkenny offers hope for rejuvenated Deise
Published 02/08/2011 | 05:00
Shane Walsh finds himself in most illustrious company.
It's rare that an opposing forward will score two goals against Kilkenny in a championship match, rarer still that one should achieve the feat during Kilkenny's much celebrated four-in-a-row of All-Ireland titles from 2006 to '09.
But it happened twice during that 18-match spell -- Walsh shares the distinction with Joe Canning, both double salvos coming within two months of each other in '09.
Walsh's brace in the All-Ireland semi-final helped to restore some respectability to Waterford hurling after the humiliating defeat they had suffered in the previous year's All-Ireland final.
His habit of scoring goals against Kilkenny continued in their league meeting earlier this year in Nowlan Park when he skillfully gathered a rebound off an upright from Richie Foley's free and peeled away from two defenders to nudge the visitors into a 1-10 to 0-12 lead.
It's a small hope for Waterford to cling to ahead of Sunday's All-Ireland semi-final that they have such a menacing presence around the Kilkenny goalmouth, someone who is not afraid to put his body on the line.
Bravery is Walsh's greatest virtue as a hurler. Former Waterford football manager John Kiely once described him as a "manufactured" hurler, a footballer first in terms of natural talent, a hurler quite a distant second.
That says much more about Walsh's ability as a footballer -- in Kiely's estimation he remains one of the best, if not the best, footballer in the county.
But for the last six years his exclusive focus has been on the hurling team. Justin McCarthy introduced him in 2006 but he had a long incubation before Davy Fitzgerald decided that such fortitude could no longer be ignored.
Those goals against Kilkenny helped to establish an unusual statistic that saw his account for Waterford weighted more heavily with goals than points until the recent All-Ireland quarter-final win over Galway in Thurles.
His 1-4 that day brought his championship tally to 5-7 in the three seasons that he has taken to establish himself as Waterford's primary target man.
Walsh is now 28 and it invites the obvious question as to why it has taken him so long to establish himself.
Injuries have played the most significant part in holding him back. The type of game he plays exposes him to aches and strains and there have been troubles with his shoulder, calf, hamstring and ankles over the last few seasons. This year is the first when he has put real distance between himself and Peter Kirwan's treatment table.
Turning his back on a prospective career as a Waterford footballer was a relatively straightforward decision with just a few emotional strings attached.
If he wanted success as a sportsman, going with the hurling squad was an obvious decision to make, one that Michael 'Brick' Walsh had made a few years earlier.
The pair were central to Waterford's Munster U-21 football success in 2003 when they defeated a Jack O'Connor-coached Kerry team that contained arguably the best two footballers in the game right now -- Colm Cooper and Declan O'Sullivan.
Walsh got the decisive goal that night but the tentacles of a strengthening hurling base in the county were already moving deep into west Waterford, the football heartland, by that stage on the back of the 2002 Munster championship breakthrough and Walsh, who plays football for the The Nire but hurls with Fourmilewater, was one of those swept up in the tide.
"It was a hard decision for me," he recalls. "I enjoyed playing football as well. I had a lot of friends made there. I'd like to concentrate on one because the training involved with one inter-county team, let alone two, is so much. It would be too hard for any individual. I'm glad I made the decision I did."
His progress this year has been one of the striking features of Waterford's play. When Eoin Kelly's early free against Galway shot up off an opposing hurl, it was Walsh who leaped highest to sweep home the rebound and give the Deise the early initiative they required after the debacle against Tipperary.
For Walsh, the therapy of an early Monday morning meeting was crucial to their recovery. When Fitzgerald announced on the bus coming out of Cork that evening that they would reconvene the following morning at around 8.0 there wasn't a dissenting word heard, according to Walsh.
"We were in a bad way against Tipperary, we got embarrassed in the Munster final. It was a hard two weeks, but Davy organised a session on the Monday morning and we had a meeting there, we threw everything out on the table. It was probably the best thing we ever did.
"You have to talk about the match, what went wrong. We just got beaten all over the field against Tipperary. We moved on from there, we worked hard in training for the two weeks before the Galway game and we said we would give it one more go, see how we got on."
There was no drowning of sorrows that night, no public wallowing in self-pity. The players went home and prepared for what was ahead.
"The public wouldn't like to see you out there enjoying yourself having a few pints and drowning the sorrows after taking a beating like that. You go home. You need to hurt. We had the meeting the next morning and we drove on from there," he reveals.
It worked too and by Wednesday night's internal match Walsh could detect a cleansing that pointed them in the right direction.
"You could see that there was a bit of bite to training that night," he reflected.
Acknowledging that the team essentially "gave up" after Tipperary's third goal went in, it's something that they have to guard against when playing teams like Kilkenny and Tipp.
"We dropped our heads after the third goal went in. We can't let that happen again. We gave up. If a couple of goals go in against Kilkenny, we need to be sure that we keep fighting to the very end."
In his short inter-county life, it's one of the guarantees that Walsh has brought.