Walsh sights on dual Rebel role
IT was the most dramatic transformation of the football year. In a majestic All-Ireland final performance for Cork, there was little sign of the jittery, nervous Aidan Walsh who pitched up for his first championship start in the Munster semi-final against Kerry in Fitzgerald Stadium last June.
In Killarney that day, he was turned over when in possession a number of times early on and squandered a gilt-edged goal chance in the final quarter that could have wrapped up the game.
His performance was solid considering the circumstances, but handing the Kanturk youngster a debut in such an important game was interpreted in some quarters as further evidence that Conor Counihan was still searching for his strongest side.
"That was a difficult start to my championship career down in Killarney," he said. "But I said to myself 'get the next ball' all the time. I made a few mistakes but it was always about the next ball. It was all a learning curve. When we got to the All-Ireland final, I knew that if I just laid the ball around and didn't do anything stupid that there were other fellas that could do the job."
That statement dramatically downplays the role he played in Cork's breakthrough win. Praise came thick and fast the following week, with former Kerry footballer Eamonn Fitzmaurice going so far as to suggest the 20-year-old is more advanced than former team-mate Darragh O Se was at the same age.
Walsh wasn't completely new to the scene, having spent last season watching and learning. He was under Nicholas Murphy's wing for much of the year gone, rooming with him for away trips. As his heir apparent in the Rebel engine- room, Walsh heard much about the near misses this Cork side had encountered.
"(Murphy) would talk to me every time we went away. He would talk about finals they had lost and when they came so close and the bad times down through the years. It's amazing really to understand what it meant to them," he said. "I think Nicholas is the most capped player ever to play for Cork and got what he wanted and what he deserved. I am just happy that I was there to do some part of it for him."
It could have been an even more memorable year. He sat out the Munster U-21 hurling semi-final clash against Tipperary, as it came just days before his senior bow against Kerry.
But even in his absence, the Rebels took Tipp to extra-time. To rub salt in the wound, the Premier side hardly had another glove laid on them on their way to the All-Ireland title. Walsh is eligible for the U-21s again in 2011 and said that when he's past that age grade, he'd consider attempting playing both codes at senior inter-county level.
"I would try it alright, if I was over 21. I think at U-21 level there are so many games with division and club. But if whoever is in charge of the hurlers after I am over 21 thinks I'm good enough, then I'd definitely give it a shot."
Given their age profile, Cork are a side that are expected to have a big say in the destination of the Sam Maguire Cup over the next few years, but Walsh warned that the Rebels will be starting from scratch next season as they look to regain the honour of being the last side to win back-to-back crowns.
"There are so many great teams out there. There was only a kick of the ball in the semi-final against Dublin and the same against Down in the final," he said.
"Then there is Kerry and Tyrone, there are so many great teams, it's all on the day really. You never know what could happen, look at Down last year and Down this year. Next year could be the same -- a team could come out of nowhere and upset a lot of people."