‘I was blown away— not just by what they were doing on the field but their wealth of knowledge about the game’

In his final months as a Kerry footballer, three-time All-Ireland-winner Donnchadh Walsh saw first hand the exciting new wave of Kingdom tyros.

‘I was blown away— not just by what they were doing on the field but their wealth of knowledge about the game’

Donnchadh Walsh won’t say he has noisy neighbours in West Dublin but they certainly are noticeable.

“Where I’m living now in Lucan, next door is a real true Dub fan. I moved into the house the weekend of the All-Ireland final last year and of course, the house was decked out and has been since.

"That was all fine but then I noticed an interesting grotto out the back to what I thought was Our Lady. But when I looked over the fence and got a closer look it’s not Our Lady but the Dublin crest.

After the semi-final, more bunting went up so after this conversation I’m off to get green and gold bunting. We’ll see how it’ll last staying up!

Outnumbered but not outgunned, Walsh and his fiancée Louise Galvin, an Ireland rugby international and a former Kerry footballer herself, won’t shy away from donning their county colours in the capital this week.

Walsh will attend a 10-year reunion for Kerry’s 2009 All-Ireland winning team tomorrow while Galvin appears on Up For The Match.

Were he still involved, stopping thefive in a row wouldn’t be a consideration.

“Absolutely not,” he insists. “A lot of these Kerry fellas are hoping to win their first and you don’t think about anything else.”

Now he is on the outside looking in, he has found himself being drawn more and more to the pre-match hype.

“My whole view of the GAA has changed. I was a great example of a fella who paid no attention to the media through my career because at the start I got a good few dustings from the media and I said: ‘Right, that’s doing me no favours’ so I managed to stay away from it for the following 10 years and it did me no harm.

“But now I’m living in Dublin I’m not meeting the average Joe Soaps as I would in Kerry so I actually find myself craving a bit of GAA talk. I’m tapping into the podcasts and I’d be seeking out stuff. Some of it makes me cringe, sometimes I’m thinking: ‘They’re on to something there’.

“It’s a funny change for me. People are trying to talk Dublin up and they’re trying to talk themselves down and I think they’re managing it well.”

His return to Dublin in February of last year — he had previously lived with Darran O’Sullivan there during college — combined with a decision to take a career break from physiotherapy for one last shot with Kerry at the age of 34.

“The commitment has been increasing every year since I first got involved in 2007 and I thought: ‘Right, it’s almost at the stage now when I need to cut back on the hours I work to see if I can get up to the level that is required’. Obviously, the level hadn’t been good enough, we hadn’t been winning All-Irelands in the last number of years so something else had to give.

"So I decided to take the career break, move to Dublin for a while, use the facilities up here in Dublin and the people I know through strength and conditioning and see if I could go almost semi-pro for the year.

“It didn’t work out, there were injuries and the whole life-work balance I had was a bit out of kilter. The year didn’t go well for me. Instead of being a semi-professional season for me, it was a semi-retirement year for me. That’s why this year I’m probably not missing it as much as other fellas might because I have had that year of transition.”

Now working with Portobello Physiotherapy, he’s more acquainted with the rhythms of Dublin life but home is home.

Though he trains with Paul Curran’s Celbridge his allegiance is still firmly with Cromane and Mid-Kerry.

And it’s in Killarney where he and Louise will tie the knot this December.

But Walsh agrees there’s a reason why most Kerry players base themselves as close to home as possible.

“I remember when I was choosing where to go to college and it was a case of anywhere but Dublin.

I don’t know if that’s just the Kerry mindset that we love Kerry so much that we don’t want to be too far away from it. It’s well-publicised that a lot of the Mayo team are based in Dublin and reading Chris Barrett’s daily routine it sounded a bit crazy.

"There’s no way of making it work time-wise or distance-wise so you don’t see too many Kerry lads making a longer link with Dublin.”

Walsh’s official retirement as a Kerry footballer came on September 21, 2018.

With Kieran Donaghy, Anthony Maher and Darran O’Sullivan all stepping aside, it amounted to an exodus of experience. But Walsh wasn’t worried about those he was leaving behind.

“You do become a bit selfish when you think about retirement. You think: ‘Well. my time is done’. There is always a person to take your place. I’m completely replaceable — everybody realises that as a footballer. You’re only holding onto that jersey for those treasured number of years that you get selected to do that.

"You’re well aware that at any stage that jersey can be taken from you and passed onto the next man and that’s how Kerry footballers realise their role in the green and gold. So I didn’t feel like with the four of us leaving that there was going to be a huge gap to be filled.

“But it is something Peter Keane had to address and it’s something he has mentioned even as recently as the post-match press conference against Tyrone where he recognised he had to bring in experienced fellas like Jonathan Lyne, Jack Sherwood and Tommy Walsh.

“You’d be so pleased for Tommy Walsh after his injuries and the pressure on him when he came back. Jack Sherwood has been a brilliant footballer for years and Éamonn (Fitzmaurice) brought him in but injuries and a loss of form meant it didn’t work out and Éamonn cut him, which was very harsh at the time. Jonathan Lyne is a huge talent who was top of the runs every night and was an absolute beast in the gym and got cut as well.

“You were thinking: ‘Jees, these lads are in their prime and their chance is gone’. When you get into your late 20s and 30s and think: ‘Has my chance gone?’ and you see what those three fellas have done it’s inspiring to me. Okay, my inter-county career is gone but at club level, I wonder could I find another gear when you think everything is on a slippery slope

“Nobody more than those lads know the years playing for Kerry are precious and they come into a dressing room adding experience and a few life lessons as well that maybe David Clifford or Seánie O’Shea don’t have because they have been in the Kerry bubble since U15 or U16.”

Walsh has known Keane from his early adolescent years when he frequented his SuperValu store in Killorglin, situated across the road from his Intermediate School.

“He has always been a local businessman and was heavily involved in sponsorship on the local scene. He has been a figure constantly on my radar and I have heard almost all good things about him and when he came into the Kerry job straight away he was cutting players and backroom staff.

"I was like: ‘This fella is really bringing his business mind into Kerry management’ and that’s where it’s been veering towards over the last number of years. You’re not the person who does everything — you’re the person who delegates everything to be done but at the end of the day you’re still the boss.

“From day one, he set out his stall that he was the boss and he didn’t care who you were, Fionn Fitzgerald captain 2014, Barry John Keane… ‘you’re not part of my plans’.

Straight away, he was setting out that there was going to be an edginess to this new Kerry team and I think building on what Éamonn Fitzmaurice had set there, a player-led group with very high standards which were only increasing every year, I have been excited by that mix and it’s brought them to an All-Ireland final.

In January, Walsh told 2FM’s Game On show that Kerry “are the only team that can put it up to Dublin”.

The fearlessness of the Kingdom’s youngbloods was one of the reasons for such a statement.

“I got to train more with Seánie (O’Shea) because he has been that extra year or two ahead of David. And even last year it was Micheál Burns who really took my slot and he had a brilliant chemistry with David and they obviously had that at minor level. I was jealous of that chemistry. I had some of it with James O’Donoghue. That’s what you love, that’s what gives you the buzz as a forward.

“Anthony Maher used to know my runs and I used to know the way he kicked it and he’d pick me out and you love that chemistry. I wanted more of that.

“I remember we played Galway in a challenge two years ago ahead of the Championship in Limerick. I think we played three periods and at the start of the second or third of them Seánie (O’Shea) was coming on and Maurice Fitz came over to me and says: ‘Get Seánie on a ball or two early’.

“I nodded and the next thing then he wins a tough, 50-50 ball, shrugs off his man and pikes it over the bar. I said to myself: ‘This fella needs nobody like me to hand him the ball’.

“Seánie was a Kerry senior footballer within a minute of being on the field.

“His movement, his skill… he had it straight away.

“When I knew the writing was on the wall for me last year, it was clear these fellas were inexperienced age-wise but clearer their football experience was way off the chart. I was blown away not just by what they were doing on the field but their wealth of knowledge about the game and about other teams.

“That’s why I’m excited about the final and the next number of years. That’s why I said that back in January.

"I could see what these young fellas were bringing to the pitch, the dressing room and the team meetings and coupled with the Peter Keane influence I felt it’s what Kerry needed to get to the next level.

“Éamonn had created the culture and his legacy will be obviously that 2014 All-Ireland win but also the culture he has created in that group. After that, there is the talent but this is special talent.”

Walsh appreciates, though, that a perfect performance from Kerry will be required to beat Dublin.

“We haven’t produced it for a long time, probably since 2009. The closest we got to it since was the league final two years ago and it was nigh on the perfect performance and it took the width of a post to stop it from going to extra-time (Dean Rock’s free).”

None of the four Championship defeats to Dublin this decade, the 2011 and ‘15 All-Ireland finals, the 2013 and ’16 semi-finals, haunt Walsh, he insists. “I don’t lose any sleep about them. I have three All-Ireland medals — I would have liked four and if I had four I’d only want five. They deserved to beat us in some of them. Incidents in games, what’s the point in reliving them over and over again?

“They’re in the past and all you can do is look forward.”

Dublin are a different class to what he and Kerry crushed in 2009.

“Nothing fazes them, not even when you think you’re rattling them. Their captain Stephen Cluxton is probably the best example.

"We used to openly discuss especially in Jack’s (O’Connor) time how Stephen wanted to hit these pockets at 10 and 12 and show off his kick-outs and we said that we wouldn’t let him.

“Now, there’s no real upsetting them. You might make him wobble a bit, you don’t rattle him. He’s such a perfectionist. He’s never rattled for longer than five or 10 minutes. He’ll find his kick-out, he’ll find his man. That ability to steer the ship away from choppy waters and get back to doing what they want to do is excellent.

“That would be the thing I admire the most about them. That’s very much a player thing because those changes are happening in the middle of the game.

No message from the sideline can be brought in that can filter through a team quick enough to change the game.

Still, the boy in Walsh dreams of 1982 happening again but for the benefit of Kerry. He quips that some of the panel could miss his and Louise’s big day because “it’s around then they have the All-Ireland medal presentation night”.

He smiles: “I’d be a bit of a dreamer. Since I can remember, I have had the dream of kicking three goals in an All-Ireland final and then in the last minute I have to stand in the goals for some crazy reason and I save it. So in relation to that (1982), I would be a dreamer.

“What’s adding to my excitement about this game is the newness of this Kerry team and maybe the X factor Peter Keane can pull out of the bag. Living in Dublin and being away from Kerry and the set-up, I haven’t a clue what’s going on inside there. I like it that way because I don’t know what he’s going to do. There’s the anticipation he could be holding something back.”


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