Aidan Walsh didn’t retire from inter-county hurling. That might have been the presumption following his Instagram post last December — “Was a pleasure and a privilege to get the opportunity to wear the red and white of Cork,” it opened. Rather, it was an act of acceptance.
“Maybe some people don’t know I didn’t retire,” he says now. “I was just told I wasn’t part of the plans going forward. I was kind of hoping to get another year or two out of it but it wasn’t to be. It’s something I will have to get used to.
“I’m lucky that Kanturk is strong in hurling and football and there are some great players coming through and there are a lot of players who are willing to train hard and bring the club to the next level. My brother (Tommy) is there and my cousins and that makes it more enjoyable too.
“I’ve been in a senior Cork set-up since 2009 and you kind of get into a bubble and a routine going up and down the road and knowing you can’t do this and you can’t do that, but as one door closes, another opens.”
There is no bitterness.
“The management felt they had to make calls and I hope it works out for them and I wish them all the best. I just want to have a really good year with Kanturk now.”
Injury has haunted the 31-year-old these past few seasons going back to the 2017 All-Ireland SFC qualifier when he went off with a foot problem. In early 2018, he dislocated his shoulder in Kanturk’s All-Ireland intermediate hurling final and broke down rushing back to play for the county’s footballers.
Switching back to the hurlers in 2019, Walsh then suffered a hand injury while cutting a hurley in his workshop, an injury that required surgery and ruled him out of the All-Ireland series.
“It was a Friday evening and I was rushing, trying to get hurleys done, and my hand slipped and I cut the top of my finger in the planer.”
Last year, he was always playing catch-up after damaging his ankle in an early championship game for Kanturk and came on in Cork’s SHC qualifiers against Dublin and Cork. Upon reflection, he considers many of the injuries of late were his body’s way of telling him he did too much in his dual playing days.
“You look back and say, ‘what could I have done better?’ Towards the end of my inter-county career, I was asking myself, ‘Why am I getting injured so much?’ People might think it was great to be playing football and hurling and of course I was delighted to do it to a high level but when I was 18 I played with 19 teams that year between club, division, schools, Cork minors and U21s.
“When you’re that age you just do it because you’ve loads of energy and just keep going. Coming out of minors, I had hopes of playing hurling but I was playing with the U21 footballers and lucky enough we won the All-Ireland in 2009 and I got called into the senior football panel first.
“So I went with that and it was a rollercoaster and I stuck with it and my hurling was going well too and I was getting phone calls from that side too. Had Conor (Counihan) stayed, I would never have played hurling because I had such huge respect for him. He’s just an unbelievable person.
Eleven years ago, Aidan Walsh’s football displays were such that Jack O’Shea sought his number to pass on his congratulations on Cork’s All-Ireland SFC victory. But he knows they were the culmination of Counihan’s belief in him.
“There were a few of those games on TV during the lockdown and I was lucky not to be whipped off because some of my performances weren’t great. Conor kept faith in me. When things go well for you, a lot of it is down to luck and people backing you.
“I was very lucky to come onto a team who had a lot of hurt in and hunger. I was only 20 and I’d do anything for them. Like, if Canty or Nicholas or Kissane said anything, I would be, ‘Right, when do you want it done?’ I’d do it straight away. Recovery sessions, wherever they were I’d be there.”
After Counihan stepped away in 2013 weeks before Cork’s hurlers were agonisingly close to winning an All-Ireland SHC, there was a charm offensive from the hurling camp led by his Kanturk team-mate Anthony Nash. He chose to do both but by the end of the 2014 season he was burning the candle at both ends.
“I remember driving the car the week before the Munster football final and the significance of playing midfield for Cork in both Munster finals one Sunday after the other hit me — ‘Christ, this is going to be tight going’.
As he was benched in the 2014 All-Ireland SHC semi-final defeat to Tipperary, Walsh apologised to manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy.
Not that he doesn’t regret hurling that year — he cherishes the photograph of him, Nash and Lorcan McLoughlin in the dressing room after winning that year’s Munster final — but he felt like a fraud splitting his time between the two camps.
“The effect it has on the team is negative as well because if you have someone who is doing 50% or 60% of training sessions and he’s starting ahead of somebody who is doing 100% of them and that had a negative effect on the group. I was trying to do enough but not too much either.
“I was brutal in training and after such a long year I was so tired and my first touch was off and I’m thinking, ‘I’m starting an All-Ireland semi-final and I’m not at the level I need to be at’. It became too much but you were trying to do your best and move on but it didn’t work out and that was the last time I ever got to play in an All-Ireland semi-final.”
Walsh has no regrets about the work he put in — nor should he — but there is one decision he does rue.
“I shouldn’t have left the hurling in 2016. I left because I was influenced in that direction by certain people and I probably should have stuck with my guns. I knew there was a group there. It happened and it’s only a small regret and the boys went on to win two Munsters.”
He can’t tell himself he could have prepared any better. Whether it was using Uddermint, a cream for cows, to heat up his legs — “the lads would give out about the smell in the dressing room but it’s catching on now” — or driving to a cryo-chamber in Ennis, he wouldn’t hesitate if he felt it would make a difference.
“A lot of fellas would say I’m all notions. If I see something that somebody has done or I can go anywhere to improve myself I have done it. It hasn’t been for the lack of effort, maybe a lack of time.
“Kanturk seems the most inland town in Ireland. I would drive an hour, hour and a half to get to a beach and just go into the water for five or 10 minutes to get my body right again. I’d try all kinds of things. It was probably more for the head than anything and believing you had an edge over your opponent.”
Making hurleys for the likes of Patrick Horgan, Shane Kingston and Robbie O’Flynn, the quality of his work will continue to give some edge to Cork.
He is aware the industry is facing uncertain times due to ash dieback but will continue producing for the time being.
“They’re saying there are only five to 10 years left in it as it is but at the moment there is plenty of ash there and it’s a case being ready for when the clubs come back. You see the alternatives so that’s probably the future but not right now. I’ll stick with it but if one door closes, another will open.”
- Aidan Walsh’s hurleys can be bought on his website www.aidanwalshsports.com