Mixed emotions for Cooper as Walsh makes AFL mark
COLM COOPER woke last Sunday morning to hear of Tommy Walsh's AFL debut and was a man divided.
There was joy, even relief, that his friend had finally made the breakthrough after moving Down Under in late 2009. But there was also a realisation that his two-goal bow for the Sydney Swans moved the Kerins O'Rahillys man further away from a return to the Kerry fold.
"While it's our loss, it's a big success story for him and I hope he goes on to make it big there because he's put in a huge amount of work. We're unlikely to see him in a Kerry jersey for a while anyway," said Cooper.
Walsh's last appearance for the Kingdom came in the 2009 All-Ireland final win over Cork -- within a few weeks he finally succumbed to the lure of St Kilda.
"You could sense that they really wanted him because they were back and forth trying to get him to come. They met with his family, did all the right things, pressing the right buttons to get him to come over," said Cooper.
Walsh departed with plaudits ringing in his ears. Agent Ricky Nixon described him as "one of the best talents I've seen" but his career stalled in Melbourne and in the run-up to last weekend's debut, he admitted he thought his day "would never come".
"I thought he would make it maybe in the second year," Cooper said. "I thought the first year might be a bedding-in period. It's taken him a little bit longer. I'm hoping from his point of view that he's starting to get on the right road and making it out there.
"I know at times he found it difficult because he wanted to play. Sometimes in Ireland we're a bit naive -- you expect him to play. You ask yourself 'why isn't he playing?' but it's a long road to break into an AFL squad.
"Certainly he missed home and playing for Kerry."
Walsh has inherited Tadhg Kennelly's No 17 jersey at the Swans, and Cooper can see him returning to play for Kerry -- just as Kennelly did in '09 -- before the end of his career.
"I know for sure he misses Kerry. We have the odd tweet or message -- he likes to know what's going on, about training and how the form is.
"Hopefully there will be a day down the line where he'll get the opportunity to come home and put on the green and gold jersey again. When will that be? Who knows? His career might be only taking off now in Australia. That might be a bit away yet."
It was perhaps fitting that Walsh made his AFL debut on the same weekend that the minors of Kerry and Tipperary booked their places in the Munster final.
Walsh was probably the last great Kerry underage star but, since his defection, Tipperary have progressed to the point where they'll be clear favourites in that minor clash. At senior level, however, it remains one-way traffic and it should continue that way when the sides meet at Semple Stadium on Sunday.
Tipp haven't beaten the Kingdom in the championship since 1928, though Kerry did win their 1999 clash in controversial circumstances -- Gerard Murphy's goal was allowed to stand despite the ball rebounding into his hands after it had hit the stanchion at the back of the goals.
Otherwise, it has been business as usual. This is the third year in a row that the sides have met in Munster. Kerry won by an aggregate of 23 points in 2010 and 2011 but Cooper agrees that they will have to get up to speed at underage level sooner rather than later.
"There's players coming through," he said, "but we'll definitely need to have a look at things like not winning minors and competing for U-21s every year."