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Little chance of replay 'rabbit from hat' to rival Walsh and O'Donnell

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Walter Walsh was man-of-the-match in Kilkenny's All-Ireland final replay victory over Galway in 2012 after racking up 1-3. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

Walter Walsh was man-of-the-match in Kilkenny's All-Ireland final replay victory over Galway in 2012 after racking up 1-3. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Walter Walsh was man-of-the-match in Kilkenny's All-Ireland final replay victory over Galway in 2012 after racking up 1-3. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

A link between Kilkenny hurling and a fez-wearing comedian with a corny 'not-like-that!' catchphrase might sound far-fetched but Michael Dempsey confesses that's who he was thinking about en route to the All-Ireland final replay two years ago.

"I remember going up on the bus that day, talking about Tommy Cooper and how he used to pull something out of the hat at the end of the programme," the Kilkenny selector reveals, referring to the astonishing conjuring act that the Cats were attempting to pull off on September 30, 2012.

The rabbit about to be sprung out of the black and amber helmet was Walter Walsh and, unlike most of Cooper's tricks, the Cats pulled it off.

The 6' 4" Tullogher-Rosbercon rookie had never worn the county senior jersey.

An All-Ireland minor winner in 2008, he had starred for Kilkenny's U-21s, who had just lost to Clare in the 2012 final.

In the U-21 semi-finals he'd had a particularly good game on Johnny Coen and, after being bossed physically by Galway the first day, Kilkenny wanted an imposing target-man.

By game's end Kilkenny were All-Ireland champions again and 'Wally', who scored 1-3, was man of the match.

"Walter had been going very well in training," Dempsey recalls.

"The fact that we got another extra few weeks to have a look at him, where he sustained it, obviously influenced our decision.

"Maybe initially, because he hadn't been there before you don't really trust him to do it, but when he's putting in a sustained run of form, and you're looking for improvement in your team, it's a relatively easy decision.

"It may have appeared like a huge risk and something out of the unknown, but he was showing very good form among very good players."

It was widely regarded as a stroke of genius by Brian Cody, and Clare did something similar in last year's replay.

Davy Fitzgerald, desperate for a goal-scorer, reached into the Banner hat and pulled out Shane O'Donnell.

O'Donnell was better known than Walsh. He had scored goals against Waterford, Laois and Wexford en route and, only two weeks previously had bagged another in the All-Ireland U-21 final, yet he was still a fringe player at senior level.

Fitzgerald deliberately didn't tell O'Donnell he was starting until 10 to three on that fateful day.

Again a wild card stole the show, reeling off a sensational 3-3 in the Banner's famous victory.

Fitzgerald later revealed that O'Donnell had been "incredible in training for the last two weeks. We played a match last Friday night - As versus Bs - and I never seen anything like it. We had eight goals and nine points scored and I had to stop it."

In 2012 Kilkenny dropped Colin Fennelly and Aidan Fogarty for the replay and brought in Walsh and Cillian Buckley, while Clare made just the single change last year: O'Donnell for Darach Honan.

Kilkenny have more improving to do from the drawn game and are expected to make more changes but neither of this year's finalists reached the All-Ireland U-21 final so they don't have young players coming off that campaign in flying form.

Tipp's U-21s have already provided in-form Cathal Barrett to their starters, and Ronan Maher (Padraic's brother), Jason Forde and Liam McGrath have seen game-time this year.

Colin O'Riordan, another U-21, starred for Tipp's senior footballers this summer and got called up afterwards.

Shane Bourke, who did well off the bench in the League final, is another useful man to have in Tipp's locker.

Kilkenny's U-21s already provide Cillian Buckley, John Power, Brian Kennedy and Padraig Walsh to their seniors and the latter, who didn't start the last day, is expected to get the call-up this time.

He is more than capable of rising to the occasion, and his big brother Tommy is also in the wings, eager to prove he's still got the X-factor.

But the reality is that these two teams know each other so well - only a point separated them, after extra-time, in the League decider - that for a final to produce a rabbit out of the hat, for the third year running, is a long shot.

Even Dempsey admits: "I'm not sure there is another Walter. We'll have to wait and see."

Irish Independent