Tommy Walsh: I've had time of my life and lived dream for 13 years
Tributes flowed, from opponents and team-mates alike, after legendary Kilkenny wing-back Tommy Walsh announced his retirement from inter-county hurling yesterday.
The decision of the 31-year-old Tullaroan star to retire his iconic red helmet and quit the Cats was not surprising given how little game-time he saw in the team's run to All-Ireland glory this year.
He came off the bench against Offaly and in their drawn Leinster semi-final against Galway, but his last appearance was when he started the replay and he did not even subsequently make an appearance as a substitute.
When Kilkenny did not call the nine-time All Star into action in the late stages of the drawn All-Ireland final - when they were involved in the sort of toe-to-toe combat in which Walsh revelled - it indicated that the end of his exemplary inter-county career was nigh.
His younger brother Padraig got the No 5 jersey for the replay against Tipperary and already looks in pole position to hold onto it.
"For the last 13 years I have had the time of my life, lived my dream and have memories that will stay with me forever," Walsh said in a statement yesterday.
His record of nine consecutive All Stars, in five different positions, including corner-back and wing-forward, will possibly never be broken.
He was Hurler of the Year in 2009 and possibly the greatest reflection of his talent came in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final when Tipperary assigned Lar Corbett to follow his every move in a desperate bid to keep him out of the game.
Walsh had a unique blend of skill, tenacity and fielding ability that made him play much bigger than his 5ft 9ins stature - he was regarded as one of the finest aerial players in the game.
Despite all his All-Ireland successes he lined out regularly and starred for Ireland's international shinty teams.
In his statement yesterday Walsh thanked Cats manager Brian Cody "for his loyalty throughout all my years with Kilkenny and for believing in me as a player".
He also thanked the Kilkenny board "who have always put the players first, which I will never forget as it laid the foundations for our recent success."
He paid tribute to Kilkenny schools nursery St Kieran's and UCC, saying he learned a lot at both institutions.
And he had a special word for Kilkenny supporters, who hero-worshipped their 'little big man', saying: "From day one they showered me with support. I will never forget their continued encouragement, especially in my final year. Simply thank you."
The reaction from his team-mates and opponents was universally complimentary.
"The gladiator has called it a day," said Kilkenny colleague Aidan 'Taggy' Fogarty, while Henry Shefflin tweeted "an inspiration. Small man, massive heart."
"Will we ever see the likes again? A true warrior in every sense of the word," said Richie Power, while former Kilkenny defender Michael Kavanagh said Walsh was "pound for pound the best hurler I ever seen".
"The lower lip has been quivering all day at the thought of having a dressing room with no Tommy Walsh, thanks for everything," tweeted team-mate and current Hurler of the Year Richie Hogan.
"A small man but a mighty man," tweeted Limerick's Gavin O'Mahony, whose team-mate Wayne McNamara said "the hurling world will be a lesser place without the likes of Tommy Walsh."
Tipperary star John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer said "what a hurler he was, one of the greats."
Cork's Eoin Cadogan said he was "incredible in the air and never backed down".
Former Rebel full-back Diarmuid O'Sullivan, who tussled at him at county and club level when Walsh also starred for UCC, quipped "So Tommy Timber has called it a day... a cheeky little b***ard but could he hurl! big loss to the game."
Date of birth: May 27, 1983.
Club: Tullaroan. Championship debut: 2003 v Dublin
Championship appearances: 54
2 All-Ireland U-21 medals (2003,'04)
9 All-Ireland senior medals 9 Leinster senior medals
9 Consecutive All Stars (2003-11)
7 National Hurling League medals
1 Hurler of the Year award (2009)