Tommy Walsh will make his much-anticipated AFL debut tomorrow against Melbourne at the SCG.
Walsh, who wears the No 17 jersey made famous at Sydney by premiership winner Tadhg Kennelly, will have his father Seán and brother Barry John in the stands cheering him on.
After being told the good news by head coach John Longmire on Wednesday, Walsh had lunch with Kennelly, during which his former All-Ireland winning team-mate with Kerry advised him to play his normal game and enjoy the experience.
The 24-year-old admitted he wondered if the breakthrough would ever come, having been named as an emergency on a number of occasions during his second year with St Kilda, as well as in the last couple of weeks following his switch to Sydney.
With the Swans having lost their last two games though, and Walsh getting amongst the goals for the reserves, a call-up was inevitable this week. Now that it has come, he aims to relish it.
“It’s been two-and-a-half years and there have been bad times and good times in that, but it’s just great to finally get off the mark and get my first game,” said Walsh.
“There were times where I felt like it was never going to happen, but I knew I just had to stick with it and keep believing that it was going to come.
“It’s taken an eternity in my mind and I would’ve loved if it had happened a bit quicker but I’m excited by the opportunity and hoping to make the most of it.
“I don’t think I’m expected to kick a bag of goals or take Mark of the Year. It’s just about playing my role.
“Horse (Swans coach John Longmire) and everyone else at the Swans have been very supportive and they’ve been telling me exactly what I’ve needed to do to get a game and put down a plan for me, and I was able to stick to that. It’s all come together now and I’m just really, really excited for the weekend and I can’t wait to get out there.”
It had initially looked like his father, a GAA legend as part of the history-making Kerry squad of the late ‘70s and ‘80s, would not be able to make it but the logistics have been sorted out.
“I don’t think he was too excited about the trip, but I think he is excited because he’s gone through everything I’ve gone through in the last three years. He’s really looking forward to getting over here and seeing me play.”
The fact that his first game is taking place on the SCG is the icing on the cake for the Tralee native.
“Ever since I arrived at the SCG I’ve wanted to play a senior game there and play my first game there,” Walsh said. “It’s always a good atmosphere and I could see how much the boys enjoyed playing there, so I just can’t wait to get out there and run out there with the rest of the boys.
Longmire said Walsh’s perseverance had finally paid off and signalled that the key-position player would operate primarily in attack to provide a physical and aerial threat. “He’s been working at it for two-and-a-half years and improving all the time, so it’s good that he gets his chance to be able to play a senior game of AFL footy” said Longmire.
“We just hope that he comes in and plays a role for us like any other player that we select, and we think he can do that for us.
“He can come into the team and play forward or back, but he will primarily play forward and give us a bit of structure in our forward line and hopefully just make a really strong contest.
“We’ve been playing him in different roles and teaching him different parts of the game, and he’s been taking it on board really well and he gives a strong contest and that’s what we’re after on the weekend.”
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