Walsh eyes final glory on road back from injury
IT was one of the more innocuous sporting injuries, but the consequences almost proved catastrophic for Limerick's Stephen Walsh.
Amid the euphoria of a Munster semi-final victory over Tipperary came a stray finger from a well-wishing supporter, catching Walsh flush in the eye.
The corner-back paid no heed at the time, but when he woke up on Monday morning, he felt discomfort. Inserting his contact lens was problematic and merely served to exacerbate the problem.
"I wear contacts, put them in, deprived the eye of oxygen, which caused an ulcer on the scratch," Walsh reveals.
"I put off doing anything about it, but by Wednesday it was unbearable and I was sent to Cork University Hospital."
Walsh was advised not to wear lenses for "four to six weeks" and doubts immediately began to swirl through his brain.
Six weeks would bring him past Munster final Sunday and Walsh remembers thinking: "Jesus, this is the last thing I need."
Walsh decided to consult his own ophthalmic consultant in Cork but his eye was beginning to heal. In the meantime, he played two club championship matches with Glenroe with the full use of just one eye.
"A nightmare," he recalls. "Two weeks without the lenses but eventually I was able to use them again. I'm fine again now, thank God, but it was a funny one looking back on it, how people can get carried away in the heat of the moment."
But if Walsh thought the celebrations that followed the Tipp game were boisterous, he's in for something else entirely if Limerick can beat Cork in Sunday's provincial decider.
The Shannonsiders haven't ruled Munster since 1996, and those guys were Walsh's idols.
"They were my heroes growing up in the '90s," smiles Walsh (27).
"I'd go to matches with Dad, out in the uncovered stand, which was a terrace then. On very hot days, people fainting around us, Ciaran Carey's point, the heartache of All-Ireland finals... that would drive you on, to try and emulate all those guys."
Walsh, a primary school teacher in Ardpatrick, has been with the Limerick senior hurlers since 2009.
He was a county footballer in a past life, but when push came to shove and he had to decide between both codes, there was only going to be one winner.
"Hurling was always what I wanted, so I went with them. My father (Liam) is from Wexford, my mother (Fiona) from Waterford, two hurling strongholds. So it was an easy decision."
In time, he rekindled a successful relationship with Richie McCarthy and Tom Condon in the Limerick full-back line.
That trio are now one of the finest divisions in the business, and both McCarthy and Condon are former All Star nominees.
"We've played as a full-back line since 2007," Walsh explains. "We played in the intermediate game before the first game of the trilogy (against Tipperary).
"We're used to playing with each other, have a good rapport built up over the years and that stands us in good stead.
"I don't think there's a more competitive line for positions on the field."
Walsh, McCarthy and Condon did their stuff against Tipp on June 9 but they're fully aware that one slip could be fatal, with Shane O'Neill, Mark Carmody and Alan Dempsey pushing hard to dislodge them from the starting line-up.
But if possession is nine-tenths of the law, Walsh and his defensive colleagues are in a good place.
The challenge now is to produce another massive performance.
Walsh reflects: "As players we've been striving for the last few years to make the breakthrough, to make a name for ourselves, put the county back on the hurling map.
"We're well aware as a sporting county that people here crave success and we want it as much as they do. We'll stop at nothing to get another big performance and, hopefully, get a win at the finish."