A long way from Killarney in May

TOMMY WALSH’S debut in the AFL next week is a story that will be framed by the sports pages, distilled by short-sleeved press men and is, undeniably, about Aussie Rules.

But it’s about Aussie Rules footie the same way Citizen Kane is about sleds. There is much more to this one.

When the rookie-listed Kerryman — if that’s not a contradiction in terms — lopes onto the field under his hard-top of blonde hair alongside his senior St Kilda’s team mates for the first time on the biggest stage Down Under, it will almost be a journey as long as that between Fiji and Croke Park.

And this circuitous route corkscrewed through a couple of detours thanks to some pretty extraordinary diversions with which he was merely an innocent by-stander on the hard shoulder.

Walsh looks set to finally make his Aussie Rules debut next week, 15 months after being signed up by the Saints. The former Kerry football star has been named by coach Ross Lyon in the Saints squad for the league’s pre-season tournament, the NAB Cup. The Saints — who came out on the wrong side of a remarkable Grand Final series last season with Collingwood — are scheduled to take on Essendon and the Brisbane Lions when the round robin stage of the competition kicks off next week.

Walsh spent last season working with Sandringham, the team’s junior affiliate in the Victorian Football League, aware that it would take time to learn the ropes of a new sport before making the progression to the first team.

On one occasion in the months before the All-Ireland-winning footballer left the familiar streets of Tralee for the trendy downtown of Melbourne from Tralee, I sat down with him for chat. One stalk of the famous green and gold Twin Towers, Walsh peered down silently as he scraped the skies, from behind folded arms. He offered a few scant monosyllables and threw me scraps of half-chewed sentences.

I clicked off the Dictaphone and was about to, politely, throw my hat at what Tom Humphries called the ‘nanny goat mambo’. But I surreptitiously squeezed the record button again when, like two jailbirds searching for a tunnel in a dark prison yard, we stumbled across a shared interest. Basketball.

Walsh’s young face seemed to unfold itself to reveal the 20-odd-year old who was into something. I dug out the quotes on my lap-top just now: “Watching [Michael Jordan] really inspired me to get out here and practice and like all the young lads I was always decked out in the latest Air Jordan gear.

“He was no angel. No... but he had to be tough. He was the best there was and you don’t get there by not standing up for yourself.”

He was no angel. Walsh has shared an oval with a few more that fit that bill recently. Though that’s where the comparisons end with MJ in the Saints’ dressing room — and you don’t expect to find many cherubs among AFL’s best regardless.

Walsh has undoubtedly found himself on the locker room benches with the club’s big stars because he has spent months learning his new trade, honing new skills and taking the ‘snot-bubble’ hits they talk of in America’s NFL.

But he has also allowed himself to squeeze through the door because of others’ misbehaviour.

Captain Nick Riewoldt, Sam Gilbert, Zac Dawson, Rhys Stanley, Jack Steven and Paul Cahill have all been ruled out of next week’s games on the back of their respective involvement in a nude photo scandal and abuse of prescription medication during a pre-season training camp.

In the week leading up to Christmas, a teenage girl released compromising pictures of two players on Facebook. The players denied ever meeting the girl. She told a radio station she was pregnant. Claim and counter claim. It’s an awful story. The press called it Dikileaks.

And apart from being caught in the drawn-out, mucky photo saga, the skipper Riewoldt was also forced to apologise this week for another off-field incident.

A woman went on Melbourne radio to say Riewoldt swore at her for taking a photo of Saints players the day after they lost last year’s replayed grand final. Ricky Nixon — the so-called super-agent who lured Walsh and others across the equator — is also Riewoldt’s representative.

He too was accused of ‘bullying’ after he allegedly rang the woman.

But that’s not Walsh’s concern.

He’ll be deployed at ‘full back and forward according to Lyon.

It’s a long way from Killarney in May.

In more ways than one.

Adrianrussell@thescore.ie Twitter: @adrianrussell

More in this section


Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox


Saturday, June 25, 2022

  • 2
  • 6
  • 27
  • 28
  • 41
  • 45
  • 39

Full Lotto draw results »