Sport Camogie

Monday 14 October 2019

Taste of defeat in 2018 leaves Walsh hungry for championship glory with Cats

Kilkenny camogie player Grace Walsh. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Kilkenny camogie player Grace Walsh. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Cathal Dennehy

The toughest beatings are those you never see coming, the kind that creep up from behind and twist your perceptions, batter your beliefs.

Grace Walsh thinks back to last year's All-Ireland camogie final, that loss to Cork by a single, agonising point - the same margin that denied Kilkenny a year earlier. That depressing sense of deja-vu.

"It's equally as hard every time," Walsh admits. "Going into last year's final, I was fully convinced we were going to win. Look, it didn't work out for us."

If she needed a jolt of perspective, it wouldn't be long finding her in the day job. For the past three years Walsh has worked as a nurse in St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin, putting in 12-and-a-half-hour shifts three days a week in a hectic ward, the kind of work that's not entirely compatible with high-level training.

"I think I'm well used to it now," says the Tullaroan defender, who negotiates with her employers to work her night shifts during the winter and stick to daytime shifts in the summer. "My managers in work have been absolutely unbelievable."

And while she might be up and down the M9 like a yo-yo during the week, it will all prove worthwhile if she gets to lift the O'Duffy Cup in early September.

In their opening game of the championship last weekend, Kilkenny got off to a flying start, reversing the league final form with Galway and edging victory by two points.

During that league final in March, Walsh had been forced to watch from the sideline, a torn tendon in her ankle leaving her laid up for 10 weeks during the spring. But she has since rejoined Ann Downey's charges and the Cats appear better than ever as they head into high-summer.

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"Ann is the absolute heart of the team, whatever buzz she's on that's what everyone else is on," says Walsh. "She's a tough, tough cookie and will give it to you hard but at the same time she'll look after you 100 per cent."

Liam Egan has also remained involved this year while the contributions of Ray Chandler and Brian Dowling have freshened things up. "Training has changed a bit this year and everyone is really enjoying it," says Walsh.

Most of last year's playing personnel are also back, with the exception of Shelly Farrell, who is travelling in Australia. "She's living the dream over there at the moment," says Walsh. "She's always texting us to say 'best of luck'.

"The buzz is really good in camp at the moment. Everyone's very excited, chirpy in training and trying to get on the team for the day."

If Kilkenny can follow up the Galway win with victories over Limerick, Offaly and Wexford, they will top group one in the round-robin and secure an automatic spot in the All-Ireland semi-finals in mid-August. That would also likely allow them a passage to the All-Ireland final without meeting Cork, who are targeting their third straight title this year - and their fifth in six years.

But the journey there must start with another step forward, for the Cats to go to Enniscorthy this evening and solidify their stranglehold on group one with a win over Wexford. Walsh knows it should be an easy win, but she's learned not to admit any such assumptions.

"When I'm going out against any team I always know there's a possibility of them beating us so we go out and treat everyone the same," she says. "You're going out with the will to win and you're not going to change how hard you try against specific teams - we try as hard against every team."

And getting back to Croke Park, she knows, will mean forgetting about that very place - at least for now.

"This year we're not looking back in the past," she says. "We're just focusing on where we are now, on the next game."

The 2017 and 2018 finals are long since buried, memories that need only be excavated if a drop of motivation is required for the summer ahead - which it isn't.

"There's no point in looking back because we can't change it," she says. "It's all about 2019, so hopefully we'll have our names on the cup this year."

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