Kilkenny’s Tommy Walsh reckons its “50-50” as to whether there will be a return to GAA action before the year is out.
The nine-time All-Ireland medal winner believes the resumption of GAA activity will hinge on the continuation or otherwise of social distancing guidelines as he cannot see how games can take place if people are still being told to keep two metres apart.
The former Kilkenny hurler was adamant there must be no risk attached with returning inside the whitewash. Players, himself included, would be fearful of what they might carry home to their family or elderly relatives should games recommence before it is fully safe to do so.
“Do I think there’s going to be a Championship this year? You’d hope there will, but it’ll have to abide by the guidelines. People’’s lives are at risk and we have to make sure we do the proper things,” said Walsh.
“It’ll depend on what happens with other contact sports around the world and if we can learn from them. The WHO, I’m sure, will give advice to Ireland on playing contact sports. I’d say it’s 50-50 at this stage.
“Imagine if you were marking a tight corner-back, he’’s going to be with you for 60 minutes, if he’’s good. That’’s the big challenge.
“We’d overcome the stadium challenge with regard to social distancing. There was 9,000 at last year’s Kilkenny senior and intermediate final double-header, so let in 2,000 and put the rest of it out live through television or the internet. I am sure we’’d live with things like that. But the challenge is the players because hurling is such a contact sport.”
Walsh’s club, Tullaroan, were crowned All-Ireland intermediate champions in January. The 37-year old was looking forward to playing senior club championship later this year and while he hasn’t yet given up on this happening, he wouldn’t pull on the white and green jersey if it meant he might potentially endanger a family member.
“When you’re young, you feel invincible, so you never feel that this is going to affect you. If I was a single man with no family and nobody else around me, I’d go back and you wouldn’t be worried one bit about yourself.
“That’s kind of the way you’re built, but everyone has parents, everyone has, maybe, elderly people with underlying conditions. That’s the thing I would be worried about — that you pick it up and you pass it on to somebody else. It would be very difficult to live with that.
“In time, I’m sure we’ll have to try and get back to some kind of normal life, and that will probably coincide with a vaccine.
“Would I feel safe going back without the vaccine? I wouldn’t be as worried about myself, but you’d be worried for other people.”
While sorely missing GAA action and the manner in which a high-stakes championship fixture can consume a county for a full week or fortnight before throw-in, a temporary substitute has been found in the Walsh household.
“We are having these family WhatsApp quizzes at the minute. There are five families on my father’’s side. Between his brothers and sisters, there are two families up in Dublin, one in Carlow, one in Waterford, one in Laois, and then ourselves in Tullaroan.
“We are having a WhatsApp quiz championship about our family, so if we were playing the lads in Dublin, the questions would be about the Waterford or Carlow guys.
“We snuck in on Tuesday night and won the championship quarter-final. It was pandemonium in the sitting-room there for about 10 minutes. It’s so competitive. It’s unbelievable how much you’d miss that side of it. You’d think you wouldn’t care, but then you get into it.”
Walsh, who is an ambassador for Pieta’s Darkness Into Light sunrise appeal this Saturday, believes the lockdown has brought out the best in the GAA community.
“The Irish would always be well known for digging in and helping out in local communities. You talk about club hurling, county hurling, but it’s not just the games themselves. Peoples’ lives revolve around this sport. We saw it with ‘Do It For Dan’, to raise €2m in such a short space of time was a credit to the Irish people and the GAA community.”
Rounding off the conversation, the nine-time All-Star said he had “absolutely no interest whatsoever” in following several of his old Kilkenny teammates into management.