Monday 26 February 2018

Walsh ready to step out of shadows for Kingdom challenge

Wing-forward relishing chance to assume leadership role

Dublin's Paddy Andrews and Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh at Croke Park, Dublin
Dublin's Paddy Andrews and Kerry's Donnchadh Walsh at Croke Park, Dublin
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

A snapshot of the anonymity that has cloaked much of Donnchadh Walsh's Kerry career...

The week after their crushing 2011 All-Ireland final defeat to Dublin, Walsh had just started studying physiotherapy at the Royal College of Surgeons off St Stephen's Green when the conversation with fellow students, oblivious to who he was, came around to the match.

Still smarting from a first championship defeat to Dublin for 34 years, Walsh opted to pull the cloak tighter rather than reveal himself.

"They had been asking me if I had been at the game, but I was down in the dumps that week and I did not have the heart to tell them that I was actually playing," he recalled.

"It was funny, a few weeks afterwards there was a presentation on sports injuries and there was a picture of me used in the presentation and they (the rest of the class) were asking, 'what are you doing up there wearing a Kerry jersey!'

Walsh knows he's not the Gooch. Or Declan O'Sullivan. Or even Paul Galvin. But he knows there is a role for him too. The less fashionable side to Gaelic football's most fashionable high-street brand.

Within the Kerry set-up, his staying power is renowned. Yet staying involved into the fourth quarter of games has been too often the exception rather than the rule.

When he pinged three of the 15 points scored against Cavan in last year's All-Ireland quarter-final, it might have bought him more time. But, right on cue, he was withdrawn on 52 minutes for Kieran O'Leary.

Walsh accepts his fate gracefully, just as he did when he was called aside prior to the 2009 All-Ireland final to make way for Tommy Walsh and the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final replay against Cork.

"I suppose winning a place on the Kerry team, you're only about 5pc better than the player on the bench.

"So, a tired Donnchadh Walsh mightn't be as good, or as 100pc fresh, as the substitute coming in.

"Obviously, at wing-forward there's a lot of mileage too, and my game would be based around high mileage, so inevitably I do get tired towards the end of a game.

"I've no problem with that. Any manager will tell a player they want them to burn themselves out, put their hands up and let a fresh man in. That's why substitutes are there."

But for a spell in last year's epic All-Ireland semi-final against Dublin, the renewal of which gets the 2014 Allianz League under way at Croke Park on Saturday night, the domestique in him was parked as he turned team leader in union with Colm Cooper.

MAGNIFICENT

Walsh spotted Cooper's magnificent pass through a forest of bodies to put James O'Donoghue in and then drifting in behind the Dublin defence to take a pass from Cooper again for a rare championship goal. He was the first wing-forward to put Jack McCaffrey on the back foot all season."

Eamonn Fitzmaurice, he feels, has released something in him, opened his eyes to the possibilities of a greater leadership role within the squad.

"I think the younger players are taking on the responsibility of being a Kerry senior player in their own right. It is definitely something that Eamonn has encouraged throughout his time.

"You have no choice. You can't be depending on the older players the whole time. Others have to put their head up and take on the responsibilities.

"Eamonn has been very pro-active in making sure those players do that.

"I would probably be a good example of it last year. Eamonn gave me the encouragement to take that on a bit more.

"I would normally have been a quiet guy, get my job done in the background, but Eamonn wants 15 leaders on the team, that bit of encouragement suited me to have a good season.

"I think it's important for every Gaelic footballer to have confidence in themselves and bring a sense of leadership."

They watched excerpts of that All-Ireland semi-final for the first time a as group last weekend and it only underlined to them once again how close they had been.

"Eamonn showed us that on Sunday to just remember the bit of hurt. It is good to remember just going into a game, to bring a bit of hurt, but he also re-emphasised the unforced errors that we made that day.

"Even if we limited one of them it would have meant that we would have been a point up on that kick-out rather than it being a level game and things could have changed," he said.

Walsh is conscious of how a slow start to last year's league eroded confidence that took a while to replenish. This time he suspects they are more prepared.

"We trained pretty hard through the first month in January last year which meant we were a bit flat going into the league.

"This year we have pulled it back a bit and, hopefully, we are that bit fresher.

"Our main aim is to get to the semi-finals of the league and you are going to have to win your first few games to put yourself in that position."

Irish Independent

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