Saturday 17 March 2018

Sinead Kissane: Positional switch won't keep Brick out of the centre stage for Déise

Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh is playing in his 12th inter-county season and remains a vital cog in the Waterford set-up
Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh is playing in his 12th inter-county season and remains a vital cog in the Waterford set-up
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

Let's get the nickname out of the way first. Waterford's Michael 'Brick' Walsh has his older brother Paul to thank/blame for his nickname. Paul was called the 'Block' in school. So when Michael pitched up in class he got tagged with the nickname the 'Brick'. There's no science behind it. No single entendre. But the nick-name stuck.

It's one of the quirks of the GAA that nicknames become more synonymous with a player than their first names; Bonner Maher, Bubbles O'Dwyer, Brick Walsh. But not at Walsh's own GAA club in Stradbally. The chairman says they don't call their star player 'Brick'. "He's known as Michael to us and all his team-mates call him Michael," Pat Fennell says.

Names, adjectives and titles have a way of following Walsh around. Former Waterford manager Justin McCarthy remembers the phone call he made to Walsh to ask him if he would take on the title and role of captain in 2007. Walsh was 23. "Yeah I'll take it on," Walsh replied. It seems "I'll take it on" is his default setting.

From midfield to the forwards to the backs to the forwards again, Walsh has been roving up and down the spine of the Waterford team for the past decade. When McCarthy was manager he used to play him at midfield, in the forwards and he would sometimes play him at centre-back in training too.

So to use the word "reinvent" to describe Walsh's move this season to the forward line under Derek McGrath is too strong - he's a player who always had the capacity to play in most of the pivotal positions.

His responsibility has never been allowed to ease off even when he wasn't captain. "He's the Daddy of the team now," McCarthy says. Walsh was the oldest/most experienced Waterford player on the pitch for their Munster semi-final win over Cork last month. He's 32. The next oldest was captain Kevin Moran at 28.

The 'Daddy' is playing his 12th season of inter-county hurling and remains just as important. In the eight National Hurling League games and one championship game Waterford have played in 2015, Walsh started every game and was subbed just once - in the league semi-final against Tipperary he was replaced in the 63rd minute.

There are other titles that sit well with Walsh's name. McCarthy describes him as a "forager". There are perfect vignettes for this description in the win over Cork. Bill Cooper must have been sick of the sight of Walsh that day; twice in the space of two minutes early in the game Walsh helped win two frees off the Cork forward. In the 69th minute with Waterford leading by four points, Walsh hounded towards Cooper as he was about to shoot towards the posts. Walsh's hurley connected with the sliotar just in time to tamper with the shot.

Walsh is also the link-man. He had assists in two of Waterford's three goals against Cork. As well as the pop pass for Jake Dillon's goal, he also gave what RTé co-commentator Brendan Cummins described as "the perfect pass" for Tom Devine's goal.

"He links up a lot of the play and he orchestrates a lot of the moves," McCarthy points out. "And he seldom loses the ball."

This is what Walsh does. It's no frills, just skills. "Winning the dirty ball is one of his great traits," Fennell states. "If he's in a ruck he will always come out with the ball. He plays hard and fair."

You can decide what adjectives you want to use for a player who played in a league game with two broken ribs. Like Walsh did in the win over Wexford earlier this year. McCarthy chuckled at the memory of Walsh admitting to him that he played with two cracked bones in his finger in a game during McCarthy's time in charge. There was no moaning from Walsh about it.

It's no frills either when it comes to his personality on the pitch. Yes, he flexes himself and does a bit of whooping when they win a free which is trademark Waterford. Remember, he started playing inter-county at a time when the panel was stacked with brilliant stars: Mullane, Dan, the McGraths et al.

Walsh has a whole lot of drive which doesn't seem to be warped by ego. He comes across as the antithesis of the kind of player who falls asleep every night to the sound of The Stone Roses' 'I Wanna Be Adored'.


He is adored in Stradbally. Two days after Waterford - captained by Walsh - were hammered in the 2008 All-Ireland final, Walsh was the first player at training with his club. When he made the breakthrough with Waterford, other bigger hurling clubs in the city started chasing him but his eye wasn't turned.

So how long more will Walsh pitch up for Waterford? The word locally was that he was thinking of retiring at the end of last season. It was Tony Browne who Walsh replaced when he made his debut for Waterford in 2003. Browne kept playing until he was 40. As much as Fennell wants him to keep playing, he reckons Walsh "won't be a Tony Browne. He'll know when his time is up".

For now, time is ticking down to Sunday's Munster hurling final against Tipperary at Semple Stadium. It doesn't matter where Walsh plays, he will always want to be in the thick of the action which is why, as Fennell says, "there's no point on putting Walsh in the corner."

He's right. Nobody puts Brick in a corner.

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