Walsh insists pain of losing will only whet Cats' appetite to get back on top
TOMMY WALSH stares out on the Croke Park pitch with a look that combines wistfulness with determination and describes the emotion of not being involved in an All-Ireland final for the first time since 2005 as "different".
It sounds like a euphemism for any number of feelings. This is just the second summer since he broke into Brian Cody's team in 2002 that he will not be hurling for Liam MacCarthy, and the legendary half-back believes the experience of watching Cork and Clare on Sunday will fuel Kilkenny's All-Ireland bid next season.
Much speculation followed last month's exit to Cork in the quarter-final, with Walsh among the names that were tipped to walk away along with his fellow soldiers Henry Shefflin and Jackie Tyrrell. These Cats have won so much, why wouldn't they take a step back and enjoy their achievements?
It appears that watching the All-Ireland semi-finals has had the opposite effect as, when asked if he will continue into 2014, Walsh's reply was emphatic "definitely".
"I've been here every year bar two and it's definitely different," he said. "Even coming up here to Croke Park today and looking out at it knowing you're not going to be playing out there is different. You'd love to be there in the final and maybe it makes us appreciate it that we were there for so many years."
As for his team-mates?
"No. We don't talk or think about retirements. We're after having such a ball over the past 10-12 years – why would anybody retire?" he said.
"It's great. In a few years' time, when you can't go out there any more, when you're too old and your body's not able to, that's the time you can just enjoy your hurling.
"There's no point in anybody retiring as you'll only get a few more years at it, only a few more times we'll get to play at Croke Park, hopefully, and you don't want it to end.
"As long as (Shefflin) is injury-free, I'd say he'll definitely come back because he didn't do any hurling with ourselves this year, so I'd say he'll be looking forward to going back and playing. Hopefully he gets an injury-free winter and come the league he can play matches. And that will be good for everybody."
Given he has not had an August without the rough and tumble of inter-county hurling since 2005, you'd imagine Walsh would have taken the opportunity to see the world.
Not so, he is ensconced with his club and deep in preparation for the county championship. As for his county manager, he doesn't think that Brian Cody will walk away either. He has won everything going in multiples, but Walsh believes he is not finished.
"I couldn't see (Cody) retiring. Sure he loves the game. The two selectors love the game. I'm not going to make any judgments but I don't think they'll call it a day. I don't think any players are thinking of retiring."
The 30-year-old Tullyroan star reckons that sitting out September will help focus the Cats' minds for next season.
"I think there's no better way to get your hunger than to look at the matches," he said. "We're gone in the quarter-final, so we've had to look at two All-Ireland semi-finals. We have to look at an All-Ireland final next Sunday.
"You have to read the papers, you're looking at the television programmes, because you're interested in hurling. You're reading all of them, looking at the programmes and 'Up For The Match'. There's no better way to get the hunger going because you'd love if that was you up there."
This season has been a breakthrough year for a host of counties, with Kilkenny, Galway and Tipperary watching from the sidelines as Clare, Limerick, Cork and Dublin took centre stage.
Walsh does not believe that it will be a flash in the pan and while the Cats will be back, the road to reclaiming their title will be a difficult one.
"It's not a case of where it's some team just coming out of nowhere getting to the All-Ireland. Clare are winning underage. Look at Dublin in the semi-finals, they're winning underage. I think it all comes back to the underage structures.
"You only have to look to the minors and U-21s the past few years, it's been spread around," he said. "So those players are obviously going to be senior at some stage and that's what's after happening.
"I remember when we were U-14, U-16, minor, schools level as well, Dublin were our biggest competitor at Leinster level and now look where they are. It's no fluke. Those teams are here to stay and it's going to be hell for leather."
For now, Walsh will look forward to the All-Ireland camogie final on Sunday week, when his sister Grace will line out in a Kilkenny side looking for a first All-Ireland title in 19 years when they take on Galway. From the way he's talking, the Kilkenny men won't have to wait that long to get back to the summit.