Saturday 7 December 2019

All-action Aidan Walsh desperate for more silverware

'Being a dual player is hard – you'd have to be an eejit not to think that'

Cork dual star and SuperValu ambassador Aidan Walsh insists everyone in the Rebel football camp is determined to make up for their poor Munster final showing against Sligo this evening. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Cork dual star and SuperValu ambassador Aidan Walsh insists everyone in the Rebel football camp is determined to make up for their poor Munster final showing against Sligo this evening. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

EVEN when he's away from it all, he's not. In the rare moments when Aidan Walsh isn't a hurler or a footballer, he's out the back of his Kanturk home crafting hurleys.

Right now, that's both his hobby and his job. Walsh's stint in DCU has finished and he hasn't a semblance of a plan for what comes next.

He could return to CIT in September, but no decision on that has been made. Maybe, when your diary is as full as his, that's for the best.

Take the last few weeks that squeezed in two Munster finals for example. The low of losing the last football final in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was followed by a first piece of championship silverware for the county's hurlers in eight years. Having one follow the other so quickly brought both comfort and pressure.

"I went straight onto the hurling and it was a kind of an escape. Then I was thinking, 'Jaysus, I can't lose two'. It was very up and down, but at least it finished well."

That night he headed for Cork. It was his first night out with the county hurlers since he, along with Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane, made his much publicised decision to line out for Cork in both codes.

Cork heaved that night as the city said goodbye to 'de Pairc'. A reveller told him Sunday was the biggest night in Cork in years and Walsh could take a quiet moment to reflect on a job well done. In Jimmy Barry-Murphy's latest reign, Cork had failed to get over the line in four different finals, but Walsh was on the winning side at his first attempt.

He concedes now that it didn't always feel like there would be big days with the hurlers. Rewind to February and Cork's first league game with Limerick.

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Walsh's Kanturk clubmate Anthony Nash's puck-outs were sent in his direction to try to ease him into the game, but he was hardly involved. Injury followed and frustration bedded in.

"When I look back at my first games in the league now, I can see that they were pretty bad," he says. "In fact, they were cat. But I was lucky because Jimmy and the management team kept their faith in me and stuck with me.

"I was making silly mistakes and doing things you just can't do at senior level. For a while I was thinking, 'what's the point in doing this?' But the lads persisted with me and I kept working on it. I wasn't on the verge of quitting, but I suppose people were expecting so much – that maybe you'd just go into it and it would just flow from there.

"But I knew it wasn't going to happen that way. You had to work at it. I had the faith to keep going and learning. I've played four championship games now and I think I've learned something new in each one of them."

He stayed at it, pursuing something he wanted since he was a child. Duhallow, where Kanturk is situated, isn't noted for its hurling, but that is changing. They had five players in action against Limerick, reflecting the work done over the last decade and more.

Walsh name-checks Jim O'Sullivan and Kilmallock's Tom O'Connell, who, back in 2001, managed to persuade Sean Og O hAilpin, who was recovering from the car crash that almost ended his career, to take a weekly coaching session. From there, Walsh was hooked.

"I remember that well. That was a huge thing for us growing up. For us, the big teams coming up were 'Barrs and Glen and it was massive for us to play them. They did great work.

"Jim and Tom had Sean Og up too working with us. They laid the foundations, I suppose. There was five (from Duhallow) on the team the other day.

"I just remember Sean Og and the way he presented himself. You talk about a role model – for him to come up to us was huge and, when he said something, you'd listen.

"That was something that stood to me growing up; someone would give you advice and I'd be at home working on it straight away."

This week, he's a footballer. Sligo travel to Tullamore to take on a Cork side who have been lilting since they were on the wrong end of a 17-point swing against Dublin in the league semi-final.

Since then, they've edged past Tipperary after flirting with disaster and suffered the ignominy of losing to Kerry in the last football final in the old Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Now, they face a 'no-win' situation against a Sligo team who essentially have a free shot at the Leesiders tonight.

If the worst happens, the dual status of the three Cork players will be inevitably examined. Just this week, fresh doubt was cast on whether it will continue when football manager Brian Cuthbert admitted he'd reassess the situation over the winter.

That said, the Rebel boss retained both Walsh and Cadogan in the much-changed starting side he released earlier this week.

ADAMANT

And while the Kanturk man admits he's happier with his hurling form than his football at the moment, he's adamant they can turn things around.

"After the Tipperary game, people told me I was flying and that it could be done. And then, after the Kerry game, it was like, 'it's the end of the dual player', so you take it as it comes.

"I knew it was going to be hard. You'd have to be an eejit if you thought anything else and we'll be going hard to get the win this weekend.

"I've never played Sligo before, so it's a new experience. They are a good team and we'll have to be on our guard.

"We have the players and we are capable. We know that ourselves – we just have things to work on. We didn't win enough breaks and the way football has gone that makes things very difficult for you. We have to do things the right way."

It's been hectic, but it's almost August and Walsh is still standing in both codes. A win in Tullamore tonight will mean it's Croke Park days all the way from here until the end of the season and all the possibilities that brings. It's the way a busy man would want it.

* SuperValu, proud sponsor of the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship, are releasing 'Mystery GAA Player' videos through the summer – calling on fans to guess who they are by using the hashtag #SVwinningtaste on Twitter or Facebook for a chance to win fantastic prizes, including a VIP trip to the All-Ireland football final.

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