Make no mistake: Aidan Walsh’s decision to concentrate on one game next year signals the end of the high-functioning codebreaker.
He didn’t know it, thankfully, but on his shoulders the future of the dual player rested. If an athlete and as gifted a footballer and hurler as he comes to a point where he realises he can’t do it, nobody can.
For there’s nobody quite like Walsh. Mike McGurn, strength and conditioning coach to the 2011 International Rules squad, revealed as much when he conducted fitness tests that year. The then 21-year-old’s results put professional AFL players in the Irish panel to shame.
That came one year after Walsh claimed an All Star and was crowned young footballer of the year. The following year in 2012, Walsh was named U21 hurler of the year. This season, he was magnificent in the Munster hurling championship.
Yet when it came to Croke Park, he sensed he fell flat on his face. “I suppose it was very difficult when it came to the All-Ireland series, especially when we won the Munster hurling and it was a massive high. Then I had to go back to the football. I played the Sligo game, I played the Mayo game and then I had two weeks to prepare for the Tipperary game.
“It’s not enough to prepare for an All-Ireland semi-final and my performance showed on the field. I was lethargic and tired and I just wasn’t up to the pace of it. I’m not blaming that totally on the reason that I played badly — that I didn’t get enough preparation — but it is certainly a factor in it.
“When we lost a game, the first fellas blamed or to be mentioned were the dual players. Obviously, we were some bit at fault but not the total reason. I just thought we were always the ones mentioned.”
Don’t think Walsh will be afforded much sympathy now as he has the unenviable task of choosing between Cork football and hurling next season. Between his clubmates, Anthony Nash and Lorcán McLoughlin on one side, and those he has battled with the last five seasons.
He’ll hear plenty of told-you-so’s both in Cork and beyond. Forget that he was more than good enough to start for both teams. Don’t pay a blind bit of notice to the fact Cork mightn’t have won a Munster hurling crown without him. And dismiss the fact that but for him, the footballers would have lost to Tipperary. No, all he’ll be informed of is he bit off more than he could chew. He doesn’t need to be told that himself. Between May 25 and August 18, he played 11 games across both codes for county, club and division. All because teams wanted him. All because they needed him.
He wanted to play for them too, though. Eoin Cadogan and Damien Cahalane felt the same with their respective teams. Podge Collins in Clare too. But what have any of them been guilty of, except being good and faithful enough to answer their county’s calls?
It had been said part of why Cork opted for Brian Cuthbert over John Cleary was that he was more agreeable to dual players. After losing to Mayo, Cuthbert didn’t sound so open to the agreement going into 2015. Now Walsh has taken that dilemma out of his hands and maybe it will be the football manager who benefits if you read between the lines of just how hard the player is on his football performances this year. “Kick-outs are such a vital part of the game in football. We were very weak winning possession around the middle third this year, that came down to not having a partnership, me not being there enough with the other midfield partnership, me not being there enough with the goalkeepers so we could work on signals or we could work on movement so that really showed throughout the year and it cost us big time, especially in the Kerry game. That’s where they really killed us so it didn’t help.”
Nobody is harder on Walsh than himself. But then nobody has standards like a dual player. So spare him the told-you-so’s and instead lavish him with applause. It was worth doing and he was worth doing it.
Justice has a way of revealing itself in the most appropriate forms.
Brian O’Sullivan’s man-of-the-match-winning performance in Sunday’s Waterford final was a prime and sumptuous example of good karma.
The Ballygunner man was done a disservice by his own county board this past summer when they failed to notify either him and the seniormanagement team about his proposed two-game ban in time to seek a hearing.
O’Sullivan had been retrospectively issued with a red card by the Central Competitions ControlCommittee arising from an incident with Damien Cahalane in their Munster quarter-final replay defeat to Cork. But because his own county board executive only informed him of the ban when it was confirmed he could do nothing about it. Although Waterford beat Laois, they lost the following qualifier to Wexford and his summer was over.
Argue the rights and wrongs of his altercation with Cahalane all day long but O’Sullivan deserved at least to put his case across.
Worryingly, the Waterford County Board have shown bad form in how they treat their own this year. In May, Shane O’Sullivan had no senior county executive representative alongside him in Croke Park when he appealed his red card against Dublin.
Officials have a lot of questions to answer. But if they’re looking for tips on providing stunning responses, they might try calling Brian O’Sullivan.
News yesterday afternoon that the odds had been cut on James Horan taking over from Jim McGuinness as Donegal manager were slightlyamusing if not entirely implausible.
Like McGuinness, Horan had taken a sword to the romanticpersonification that his county had wallowed and drowned in. Like McGuinness, a father of five, he had shown a remarkable ability to multi-task.
Like McGuinness, he broke a lot of eggs to make an omelette.
Both will say they had to. To over-achieve, they had toover-compensate, over-elaborate and over-work.
Like Horan, McGuinness took it too far at times.
His stand-off with a journalist after the 2012 All-Ireland final took the gloss off an outstanding feat.
In defeat, he never truly tookresponsibility on his own chin. With Donegal’s minors, there is hope for the future but only the exceptionally gifted broke into McGuinness’ team.
However, his Championship record of 20 wins in 24 games will shine like a beacon.
Working largely with a group that were cast off after that July afternoon in Crossmaglen, that’s a remarkable journey.
Gaelic games will be duller without him. Donegal football will be poorer. If and when he returns, he’ll be welcomed as a magician. And oh how we’ll await his new trick.