Wily Walsh says hurt was the motivation

GATHERING his hurleys in the Kilkenny dressing room after his sixth All-Ireland final triumph, Tommy Walsh was offered a helping hand.

But he was having none of it. “I’ll bring them out myself,” he said to the backroom member from his spot in the corner stationed alongside Brian Hogan.

It seemed an appropriate gesture from one of just several Kilkenny stand-out performers that he was still prepared to do his own bit long after the final whistle had blown.

Walsh is all but certain of a remarkable ninth consecutive All Star award after a sterling performance yesterday in an absorbing tussle with Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher.

He also managed to inflict some damage on the referee Brian Gavin while he was at it (more of that anon).

And although Maher did his fair share of damage in winning frees in the first half and laying off scores as Tipperary threatened a comeback, the contribution Walsh made, in defence holding his man scoreless and distributing the ball with class in attack, was phenomenal.

Like Henry Shefflin, Walsh has become more of a player. He is a symbol, an icon of, yes, greatness. No other defender’s clearances are cheered as much as the 28-year-old’s and in the first-half there were plenty of them.

In one instance during that period, Gavin awarded him a free and just like a salmon from the Nore he was up on his feet, bursting through a couple of Tipperary forwards to get back to his position.

After defeat last year which he endured despite carrying a shoulder injury, nothing but nothing was going to get in his way this time around. Not after the disappointment of last year which he equated to as being one of the lowest points in his career.

People spoke about Kilkenny’s hunger before the game. This wasn’t it, insisted Walsh. This was about hurt. There’s a difference.

“After losing it’s hurt and when you’re winning it’s hunger,” he explained, wearing the bruises, cuts and general marks of battle.

“This year it was down to hurt. It was nothing as regards Tipperary or anything, it was just getting beaten last year in the final.

“During the winter then every time you see a hurling match on the TV you’re turning it off or walking out of the room. At least this winter we’ll be able to look at matches with happiness.”

Asking him where to put it among his six triumphs might seem a difficult one considering he has had such little time to digest it.

But Walsh’s reply was instant and definitive.

“It stands as the sweetest because we lost last year. If you go back and ask anyone before today what is there best victory it would have been Cork (in 2006) because we got beaten the two previous years.

“After last year and losing the five-in-a-row it was heartbreaking all last winter and it probably showed out there today how much it affected us.

“You can probably only get that after losing. We’re just delighted now that we went and did something about it.”

As regards his duel with Maher, Walsh acknowledged it was an absorbing contest, one in which both men could at times claim to have got the upper-hand.

“You’ll always get as good as you give against Tipperary and it was no different out there. The Bonner’s a great hearted player and I suppose every Tipp player will feel the same, that when you go out you give it your all.”

On a day when Brian Cody and his management team appeared to get most if not all of their match-ups right in defence, Walsh was one of the only players on the same Tipperary forward as last year.

While Lar Corbett made hay against the isolated Noel Hickey last year, he found Jackie Tyrrell in the most unforgiving mood.

“Listen, some days they work for you,” shrugged Walsh about the match-ups. “Jackie is a great fit player, he’s very physical and there’s no better man in Ireland than himself to run around Croke Park and he’s great hurling there as well.

“We’re delighted that he came out on top in that battle.”

It was on pillars such as Walsh, Jackie Tyrell and Paul Murphy that Kilkenny attained the win but the Tullaroan man was only too happy to dish out the compliments.

“You’ll win nothing without the team and we took great heart from seeing Colin Fennelly blocking Lar with his head. That’s winning tackles, that’s match-winning tackles.”

And, oh yes, about that incident with Gavin in the 20th minute. Raising his hurley in a shemozzle in the corner of the Hill 16 and Hogan Stand end, Walsh managed to accidentally catch the nose of the match official.

It left Gavin requiring three minutes of medical attention as he had his nose bandaged and filled with cotton wool to stem the bleeding.

The referee didn’t make a big deal of it nor did the player.

As Walsh said: “These things happen. Brian Gavin is from Offaly and we know a good few lads from Offaly. They’re hardy out and they’re tough and they love good battles so I’d say Brian Gavin doesn’t mind too much at all!”

Like Walsh, Gavin has the war wounds. Only the Kilkenny warrior has redemption too.

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