Walsh: Final call-up a bolt from the blue

They were positioned on opposite ends of the field on All-Ireland final Sunday but Kilkenny pair JJ Delaney and Walter Walsh also reside at either end of the experience spectrum.

Walsh: Final call-up a bolt from the blue

In attack, Walter was making his senior hurling debut, and a spectacular debut it was, with his 1-3 securing the official man-of-the-match accolade and his first All-Ireland SHC medal.

Manning the edge of the square, Delaney was capturing his eight Celtic cross, in his 12th season with the Cats.

Between them they sum up what this Kilkenny team is about under Brian Cody. There’s that deep well of experience, yes, but there is also that willingness to give youth its fling.

For Walsh, the selection to start came as a bolt from the blue. “I didn’t know until the team was announced on Friday and my name was there. I started focusing then after that but that was the soonest I knew.”

It says a lot for his temperament that he was then able to produce the performance he did in an All-Ireland final in front of 82,000 people. “It was a very surreal experience, to be honest, and it still hasn’t sunk in; I still haven’t come to terms with it! I tried to treat it as another game. The lads were all talking to me beforehand — they had a few words with me, good words.

“Brian Cody, Martin Dempsey and Michael Fogarty also had a word with me. They told me it was just another match and to try to do what I always do. It went a bit better than I thought it would!”

Delaney would have had a better feel than most for what Walsh was going through as he was plucked from relative obscurity for a championship game against Offaly in 2001. He recalled: “I wasn’t hurling for the league and my first start for Kilkenny was in the championship too. It was sink or swim. You’re looking around at the players you were looking at a year before on the telly, at the likes of Peter Barry and DJ Carey and these lads and you’re saying to yourself ‘I shouldn’t really be here.’

“You’d be saying to Walter before the game just to keep doing what you’ve been doing in training, it’s just another match. He was showing form and he stepped up and he was unbelievable. The confidence he has at the moment is going to go through the roof and it’s great for him. The first one is always the sweetest one as well, they’ll never forget that. The likes of Wally Walsh, he had a dream debut, it’s just great for him.”

Meanwhile Delaney insisted he bore no ill feeling towards Cyril Donnellan following their second-half clash on Sunday. Donnellan was red carded for a pull on Delaney which left the Kilkenny man with a nasty wound which required stitches. Delaney said: “I was talking to him after the match and there was no animosity or anything. It was just a spur of the moment thing. He didn’t apologise — there was nothing to apologise for, really. I was chatting away after the match and there was no problem whatsoever.”

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