Sunday 21 January 2018

Grace Walsh: 'You kind of aspire to be like the lads'

Cats ace driven to end 19-year title drought and follow in footsteps of decorated brother

Kilkenny’s Grace Walsh alongside her brother Tommy in Croke Park ahead of tomorrow’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie final against Galway
Kilkenny’s Grace Walsh alongside her brother Tommy in Croke Park ahead of tomorrow’s Liberty Insurance All-Ireland senior camogie final against Galway

Ruadhri O'Connor

SEPTEMBER Sundays are a long-held tradition in the Walsh household and tomorrow they'll pack up and head to Croke Park as usual.

For the past decade they have made this pilgrimage to watch Kilkenny compete in, and invariably win, All-Ireland hurling finals and they will hope that the impressive haul of family silver will be added to tomorrow evening.

This year, however, there has been a change of emphasis. Tommy will be in the stand watching on as the only girl in the family of five will lead the charge for the Cats. Grace Walsh has watched her brother claim eight Leinster and seven All-Ireland titles from the gallery and now is her time to shine.

She is circumspect about her own big day in the sun, happy to let her older sibling hog the limelight as he has done so well for so long.

Kilkenny have not won a senior camogie All-Ireland since 1994, a fact that will shock casual observers. Surely a county with such a rich hurling and camogie tradition should be stronger, they might ask.

The brand brings with it a burden and that must be something Walsh can empathise with as her name comes with an expectation.

This team are ready to live up to that name and capture a 13th title and Walsh is ready to play her part.

Despite the hand of history, she reveals that she gets more nervous when her brother takes the field and is relishing her own big day.

"The legs would be going and the nails would be gone," she admits of watching Tommy play.

"I don't like watching any of the lads from home playing – like, I love watching it, but I get so nervous, even if it is only a small challenge match.

"You'd be nervous because you'd always be watching your own, as well as everyone else, but you'd always have a bit more focus on them."

As for her own preparations, she is taking it in her stride. Walsh and Kilkenny played at Croke Park during the Spring Series last year and got a feel of the pitch and, although she doesn't plague big brother for too much counsel, she leans on him for his experience of handling the occasion.

"I'd ask him for advice the odd time," she explains.

"He'd be at my matches and if I thought I didn't play well I'd ask him where did I go wrong and that, what I can improve on and all that stuff. He's so experienced; I try and listen to him anyway.

"Even just eating right and sleeping right. Even nerves, talking to him about what you should do to control them or whatever. But lifestyle, yes you would try and copy him.

"If I was to sit and think about the game and I was to start riling myself up a little bit, I would be nervous, but I'll try and calm the nerves until the big day, you don't want to freeze either."

Being a nervous spectator appears to run in the family.

"It's always tough looking at your own family playing, especially in the big games," Tommy admits.

"You'd be nervous hoping that everything goes well for the team and her. It's going to be different (tomorrow) because it's an All-Ireland final, a different experience. Hopefully, it goes well for everyone.

"I was lucky enough this year to see her playing a couple of times. I was in Nowlan Park, I saw the semi-final in Thurles as well. It was great this year because for the last few years they weren't coming up to scratch.

"This year they seemed to be playing all the bigger teams – Wexford, Galway, Cork – and coming away with one or two-point victories. That has been great to see from a spectator's point of view – it's exciting and they're coming out the right side of it as well.

"I don't think anything can prepare you for Croke Park. Sometimes you're nearly better off not knowing anything about it. I wouldn't be giving her any advice unless she came asking about it and she hasn't asked me anything about the final so far anyway. I'd try and not give her too much advice – you learn yourself as you go along."

It is five years since the Cats last contested an All-Ireland final and, in Galway, they face a team looking to end a similar famine.

With the senior hurlers out of the running for honours for the first time since 2005, the spotlight has increased on the camogie team and that is something they are ready to embrace. Their young team has enjoyed plenty of success at underage level, but senior titles have eluded them thus far and half-forward Walsh is hoping to put that record to bed.

"It's crazy. We've been so successful underage coming up along. We've been kind of building it up and this year we have a young team, I think there are only two players over 25 on our team," she said.

"It's going well now and it's great, and you have all the lads on the hurling team, you kind of aspire to be like them.

"It'd be great to win it, I'd like to bring something home myself to the family, it'd be nice to win now this year. I think the spotlight is more on us now as well. It's kind of good for Kilkenny camogie now that they (the senior hurlers) are not in it, obviously it'd be great if they were in the All-Ireland as well though."

After years of watching Tommy bring it home, his sister is ready to do it for herself.

Irish Independent

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